Some Guy Has Spoken

Reality TV Recaps and Analysis with a Dash of Snark and Social Science

Month: March, 2014

Reality TV and Tropes- Survivor: Samoa and the Tomato in the Mirror

TV Tropes is a wiki that compiles and deconstructs the myriad of recurring devices and conventions that appear in storytelling. These tropes are not, as the name of the site implies, simply bound to television, and can be seen in all forms of media. Reality TV and Tropes examines these tropes as they apply to specific instances within the world of Reality TV.

Have you ever played one of those retro video games with a forced, top down perspective (or alternatively a modern game intentionally trying to look retro)? If you have, you’ve probably hit a point in the game where you’re traipsing through a dungeon only to stumble upon a dead end. You retrace your steps a thousand times but no matter what, you can’t seem to figure out how to get to the next section of the dungeon. After what is either a moment of sheer luck or consulting a guide, however, the solution becomes clear. There has been a doorway right there the entire time! The problem is that the door is on the left side of the hallway, and given the forced, top down perspective, you, as the player, would never realize it’s there–even though from the perspective of the character in the game, it’s totally obvious.

A forced perspective that keeps the observer from seeing what the characters see can be used as a storytelling device as well; it’s a trope that goes by the name of the Tomato Surprise. By withholding information or forcing perspective, the story creates tension for the viewers when there is none for the characters. The twist in the story comes not from the characters learning new information, but from the reader learning new information that changes the framing of the story completely. A story about a man using a knife to butcher his victim, with red liquid oozing everywhere could seem like a tale of vicious murder–until the end of the story, when it’s revealed that he’s simply dicing a tomato.

A key element of the Tomato Surprise is that the characters in the story aren’t learning anything new at the point of the twist. Only the observers are taken by surprise, as the detail that the twist hinges on is often something so mundane that the characters in the story wouldn’t even think to mention it.

A classic example is the iconic Twilight Zone episode The Eye of the Beholder. Our protagonist is a woman who suffers from hideous facial deformities, and who has undergone numerous procedures in an attempt to correct them so she can have a more normal appearance. In the wake of her most recent surgery, her face is bandaged, and remains covered for most of the episode. Forced perspective should be noted here, as all of the other characters–predominately hospital staff–never have their faces shown.  Their images are always somehow obscured, be it by shadows, curtains, etc. At the climax of the episode, the bandages are removed to reveal a stunning Donna Douglas–and that the operation was a total failure. As we pan back and finally see the faces of the hospital staff, they are revealed to be have gnarled, twisted, piglike features. As observers, we come into the story believing that it takes place in our world, and assume as much because nobody ever says otherwise. The use of forced perspective keeps us from seeing the details that are already known to everyone in-universe, so we’re taken by surprise when it turns out that what is “malformed” in our reality is the norm in theirs.

The Tomato Surprise is an easy trope to overuse, and as it became more prevalent, it became easier for observers to identify and predict it before it happens. This has led to a variant of the trope rising in popularity–a trope called The Tomato in the Mirror. In this variant, our perspective is forced by presenting the story through the viewpoint of a single character, who is, like the observer, not given the full story. The rest of the trope still stands, however. With the exception of our protagonist, all of the other characters are fully informed. When the protagonist learns that they, in fact, have been a tomato the whole time, it comes as a shock to them and nobody else.

One of the most popular examples of this trope is M. Night Shyamalan’s first and best film, The Sixth Sense. The entire movie follows Bruce Willis as a child psychologist attempting to help Hayley Joel Osment, who sees dead people. The twist hits at the end of the film, when Bruce Willis realizes that he died in the movie’s opening, and has been wandering the world as a ghost ever since. We follow his perspective throughout the film, and the moments where he is interacting with other characters always manage to, by coincidence, make it seem like they’re interacting with him. (The obvious exception is Hayley Joel Osment’s child medium, who even explains to Bruce Willis upon their first meeting that the ghosts don’t know that they’re dead and only see what they want to see.)

This brings us to Survivor. (When it comes to me, though, most things lead back to Survivor…) In particular, it brings us to the 19th season, Survivor: Samoa.

The cast of Survivor: Samoa

Among the Survivor fandom, Samoa is one of the most controversial and polarizing seasons–some people think it’s absolutely amazing, while others think it’s one of the worst seasons of all time and responsible for issuing a new era of Survivor that’s focused on all the wrong things. And no matter which side of the debate you fall on, it’s impossible for your opinion to not have been impacted by, if not be a direct result of a single contestant–oil company owner Russell Hantz.

Our Tomato

Russell ended up dominating the editing like no castaway before ever had, and it’s unlikely we’ll see anyone ever dominate the edit so thoroughly ever again. He had a whopping 108 confessionals by the end of the season–more than anyone else ever–which gave him a third of all the confessionals in the entire season. Just let that sink in… out of 20 castaways, every third confessional came from one of them. The season’s winner, pharmaceutical sales representative Natalie White, by comparison, had an all-time low of fifteen by the season’s end, barely over 3% of all the confessionals, and by far the lowest total for any winner in the entire series.

Hi, I’m Natalie White. You may know me from my role as Natalie White, the winner of CBS’s Survivor: Samoa.

This incredibly unbalanced editing is the primary criticism of Samoa as a season, and it’s really not that hard to understand why it bothered people. It’s difficult to get a read on what is really going on in the game when you’re seldom hearing from most of the players, and on top of it, Russell’s confessionals were repetitive. You could reliably predict that he’d remind you at least twice an episode of that he was the best player to ever be marooned, that the victory was his from the moment the season started, and that the other players were all absolute morons who were lucky to not to have accidentally killed themselves by virtue of their own immense stupidity.

Watching Samoa live for the first time was a frustrating experience, and by mid-way through, not only was I sick to death of Russell, I was sick to death of the people around him for never voting him out. Russell was playing hardball like it had never been done before. He was the first contestant to ever seek out a Hidden Immunity Idol without ever having a clue or even knowing for sure that there was an idol, and it’s a feat he repeated not once, but twice more during the course of the season. He was adamant that he had unlocked the secrets of how to totally manipulate the other castaways, and it was by effectively torturing them. Russell bullied, berated, and mocked the people around him, hoping to mentally beat them down to the point where they’d have no choice but to follow his wishes. He increased the discomfort by sabotaging his own tribe, Foa Foa, emptying canteens and burning socks. And of course, he lied and backstabbed at high speed, promising his word to literally anyone whose ear he could catch and then voting them out when it best suited his whims. The fact that nobody ever seemed to wise up and take Russell out was, as a viewer, infuriating.

The even bigger problem beyond this was that not everyone watching hated Russell. In fact, on the contrary, a huge chunk of the viewership absolutely loved the guy, to the point where he won the Sprint Player of the Season fan favorite award at the reunion show! You, the reader of this blog, may even be a fan. Not only did it appear that Russell was manipulating his tribemates, it appeared that he was manipulating the viewers. He had convinced a large chunk of the fanbase that Survivor really didn’t exist until he came along, and that many of the most respected players to have come before him were amateurs by comparison.

Now, you’ll note I’ve already said that Russell didn’t win Survivor: Samoa. And given that we were with Russell every step of the way as he lied and manipulated through two whole tribes of players, it begs the question: how did he lose? The answer is simple. Everybody else absolutely hated his guts and thought he was the biggest douchebag on the planet. If given the choice between Russell and a stick with a face carved in it, the jury would have made that fucking stick a millionaire.

Upon re-watching Samoa, I’ve moved from one side of the coin to the other, going from hating it to finding it brilliant–but not for the reasons that you might think. I haven’t somehow come around to thinking that Russell really is the greatest player ever and that he was unfairly denied his prize by a jury of Bitter Betties. Rather, I’ve come to the conclusion that the editors of Samoa took it upon themselves to give a fresh twist to the story of “Self absorbed jerk overplays and loses to his much more socially savvy and likeable ally.” I have come to love it because the entirety of Survivor: Samoa is a Tomato in the Mirror plot, making it totally unlike any season surrounding it.

The editors did as much as they could to ensure that we were seeing the story predominately from Russell’s perspective, and omitted details that were clear from the perspective of the other castaways.   When Russell told us he was the greatest player of all time, we wouldn’t be shown anyone challenging that notion. When Russell said that everyone else was an idiot and that they weren’t even playing the game, the edit corroborates his take on the story by simply not showing us the other castaways at play. If anything, it might be the closest experience we, as viewers will ever get to knowing what the reality of being a player of Survivor is like, because out on the island, you don’t have the luxury of confessionals to tell you what the people around you are really thinking.

What we saw for most of Samoa was Russell Hantz’s truth. From his vantage point, he was the best player, and everyone else was a fool blindly stumbling around the jungle. By forcing Russell’s perspective, the editors created the perception among the viewers that Russell was right. However, much like in The Sixth Sense, it’s not until the very end where the twist is revealed.

The last four Foa Foa standing head to the Tribal Merge

By the time Russell’s Tribe, Foa Foa, merged with the Galu Tribe, Foa Foa was outnumbered 2 to 1 by Galu, leaving Russell and his remaining tribemates–anesthesiologist Mick Trimming, law student Jaison Robinson, and Natalie–forced to stick together by sheer necessity. As has been seen in many a season before, a tribe that flourishes in the pre-merge challenges is given plenty of time to build resentment within a large group of people, so that by the time the merge hit, there were cracks that the Foa Foa Tribe could exploit, allowing Russell and Friends to systematically dispose of the former Galu Tribe. Russell’s strategy from the get-go was that he would drag sweet, dumb, useless Natalie to the end of the game, where the jury would have no choice but to reward him–they’d never give it to some airheaded bimbo who did nothing but cling to Russell’s coattails for dear life, after all. From Russell’s perspective–the perspective we were seeing–Natalie was a goat (Great Opponent At Tribal) and he was leading her to the slaughter.

Jaison and Dr. Mick Steamy

As Galu’s numbers shrank lower and lower, again, the question came to mind–why isn’t anyone targeting Russell? Why aren’t any of his allies turning on him? Don’t they realize that Russell Hantz is the greatest player ever and that they’re just signing up to lose to him if they let him reach finals? Well, the answer to that question is, again, simple, and, again, is found by pulling away from Russell’s perspective–nobody besides Russell thought that Russell was the best. As Russell lead the charge in dismantling Galu with his brutish personality and scorched earth gameplay, the real game was being played between Jaison, Natalie and Mick. The three of them were competing to see who would get to take Russell to the end, as Russell has actually been the worst player all along. While he was puffing himself up in confessionals, everyone else was at their wits’ end with him, growing more and more tired of his absolutely insufferable personality and obnoxiously thick sense of entitlement.

Our “twist” reveal in the Final Tribal Council comes in the form of the final juror’s speech,  from the first member of Galu to be fucked over, bartender Erik Cardona.

“Perception is not reality! Reality is reality, and you are sitting there and that makes you just as dangerous as any one of those guys,” Erik tells Natalie. And he’s right. Erik is the mirror, and Russell is the tomato. Russell didn’t see what everyone else did. Sweet, perceptive Natalie saw Russell antagonize and destroy anybody who he even thought could threaten his status as the best ever, so she just kept her head down and stayed under his radar. While Russell blustered and raved like a lunatic on his power trip, Natalie befriended those around her, taking genuine interest in their lives and experiences. She knew the names of every juror’s families and friends, their hometowns and their jobs, their hobbies, fears, their dreams. Erik holds up his mirror and Russell–along with the audience–sees the truth. Natalie was the winner all along. Russell was her goat.

You can see that he still has no idea what happened

As an overall, now three-time player and general human being, I cannot stand Russell Hantz. He’s easily one of my bottom five castaways of all time, not just for the depths of his horrific personality, but for the awful impact that he left on the show. His Tomato in the Mirror storyline was one that sadly, a large chunk of the viewership failed to understand. The reveal was lost on them, and they walked away from the season still just as blind as Russell himself, shocked at how the best player ever didn’t win the game. Russell would return for a repeat performance in the following season, Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, the show’s 10th anniversary all-star battle, where he once again bullied his way to finals, and once again lost because he was oblivious to how hated he was. The second time around, however, the secret is out of the bag. The editing no longer supported his claims of being the best to ever play, but it was too late. Too many people in the viewership were swept up in Russell-mania and production re-oriented the series to reflect the public response to his character. Future seasons would see casting choices clearly meant to be new variations of Russell’s hyper-aggressive strategist persona. Season 22, Redemption Island, was entirely devoted to his feud with Marquesas  and All-Stars alum Boston Rob that had developed on Heroes vs. Villains. Season 23, South Pacific featured his nephew, the 19 year old Brandon Hantz, as a castaway, while in the same year, Big Brother, also on CBS, cast Russell’s brother, Willie. Willie would end up being disqualified from the game for physical violence against another houseguest. Brandon would prove himself to be an emotionally unstable, if well intentioned lunatic, and was invited back for the second edition of Survivor: Fans vs Favorites where he self-destructed, dumping his tribe’s rice in the midst of a heated feud with another castaway, leading his tribe to forefit the immunity challenge and vote him out immediately before he could become physically violent.

The sad reality is that Russell’s legacy and impact on Survivor has been an overwhelming and negative one. But for one season alone–his first–I can’t help but give a begrudging respect to the astonishingly clever treatment the editors gave to his character. Survivor: Samoa was dedicated to the Tomato in the Mirror, and as a result, became one of the most unique and fun seasons Survivor has ever seen. It’s unfortunate that it came at a major cost to the series going forward.

Survivor: Cagayan, Episode 6 Recap- “We’ve Found Our Zombies”

Previously on… SURVIVOR!

The castaways dropped their buffs and three tribes of Brains, Beauty and Brawn became two–Aparri and Solana. On Aparri, all three remaining Brains–Tasha, Spencer and Kass–stayed together, and found the Beauties that joined them–Morgan, Jeremiah and Alexis–were quick to fracture and throw one another under the bus, putting the Brains and lone Brawn Sarah in a position of power. Things were looking less bright for L.J. and Jefra over on Solana, where they were invaded by the majority of the former Brawn Tribe, who seemed intent on sticking together to get them out. Fortunately for them, bottom woman Trish found herself smitten with L.J. and grabbed ally Tony to flip, moving the target from L.J. to the gigantic Uncle Cliffy, who was blindsided–leaving his allies, Woo and Lindsey, in complete shock. 13 remain–who will be voted out tonight?

It’s a quick start to the fireworks as the Solana Tribe returns to their campsite on Night 14, sans Cliff, who has just been blindsided.

To refresh your memory

No sooner than are the torches set down than does Trish turn to address the team, tense music building in the background. With only a few words out, Lindsey tells Trish to “get real” and it’s all downhill from there. The two women have butted heads since the very first day on Aparri’s beach, and Trish voting out Lindsey’s closest ally appears to be the hairdresser’s last straw. The point Trish is trying to make is that she wants for Solana to be as strong of a team as possible going forward in the challenges, but as an irate Lindsey continues to cut her off, Trish becomes less and less genial in her approach. “Let me just make this really clear to you, moving forward,” Trish snaps. “I will respect you, because this is a team moving forward–but I don’t like you.” “You know what? You disgust me!” retorts Lindsey. “Everything about you is annoying–your laugh, your teeth, your face, everything about you I cannot stand, so how about you just back off a little bit, and shut up, and not talk to me for a little while?” Golden Boy (or, as Probst will re-term him later in the episode, Bearded Mountain Man) L.J. watches with a mixture of horror and fascination as the two women continue to verbally dig at each other. Lindsey calls Trish “annoying” about a thousand more times before Trish asks “Do you think I’m annoying?” just to spite her. When Lindsey answers yes, Trish responds with “okay, now ask me if I care.” Zing! Tony eventually tries to step in and calm the tension, but Lindsey is far too wound up. “I cannot, honestly, even be in the same sand as you right now,” Lindsey spits, and with that, she sulks off into the darkness of the night. After what appears to be sometime later, Lindsey still hasn’t returned, and the tribe is starting to worry. “It’s cold out, and it’s night… I hope she’s alright, bro,” remarks Tony. “She’s probably just licking her wounds because she’s not used to being called out like that,” says Trish as she huddles into the shelter.

Lindsey has found a spot for herself to sulk on the beach, and out of the darkness emerges a figure… is it a chupacabra? A serial killer? Malnutrisha, back to finish the job? No, it’s the one and only Jeff Probst, who takes a seat next to Lindsey to figure out what’s going on. Lindsey explains that Trish “exploded” on her with “her annoying mouth,” and Lindsey tells Jeff that she cannot be around someone who is antagonizing her, saying she’s worried that she’ll “flip out” with the implication being that if she spent another second near Trish, Lindsey, the self described “slave to [her] emotions” would have been unable to restrain herself from responding with physical violence. “I’d rather cost me a million dollars than for my daughter to see her mom act like that.” Lindsey admits that she knows the physical toll of the game–the hunger, cold, thirst, discomfort, etc–are impacting her ability to respond rationally, and that she’ll probably regret her choice come the morning, but in this moment, her mind is made up–Lindsey quits and becomes the 6th person to leave Survivor: Cagayan, leaving Jeff with little more to do than to trek up the beach to Solana’s camp to inform her tribe of the news.

Both Jeff and the show itself treat Lindsey’s choice with as much respect as it can, and it seems that they’re really trying to give her as much benefit of the doubt as possible. Only Lindsey can ever know what her true motivations were in the moment, but I don’t 100% buy Lindsey’s reasoning. In an online bonus clip, Lindsey further explains her rationale, saying that her motivation the entire time was her daughter, and what she could use her experience on the show to teach her. She says that she realized in the end, the biggest lesson that she could take from the game to bring home to her daughter is the importance of knowing your limits. She says that she’d rather be remembered as a quitter than as the woman who resorted to physical violence, which is respectable enough… but I’m not sure Lindsey is being totally honest with herself. While I don’t doubt that she truly is considering how everything she does on the show will affect her child, I think she put that in the front of her mind to justify what was, in essence, a rage quit. With her closest–and apparently only–ally out of the game, Lindsey gave up. And, well… come the end of the episode, I can only wonder if watching at home, Lindsey came to regret her decision. If she did, I doubt she’ll ever cop to it. I also think it’s very telling that she is removing ownership of her own actions in the situation–she doesn’t seem to ever for a moment question what she could have done to foster Trish’s disdain of her, and she doesn’t seem to realize that no person is truly a “slave” to themselves. If she had attacked Trish physically, it wouldn’t have been an inevitability–it would have been her choice. Instead, she chose to leave. And as much as we, as viewers and fans, can sit back and criticize, it’s her life, and she doesn’t really owe an explanation to anyone.

Jeff appears to the stunned Solana Tribe to break the news. Trish, for as much as she admittedly dislikes Lindsey, says that she still “cares for her as a person” and worried, on a human level, when Lindsey vanished into the cold Cagayan night in nothing but her underwear, and the group as a whole seems relieved to learn that she didn’t literally explode in a fit of rage, staining the beach with chunks of flesh and dreadlocks. Trish admits to feeling a little bad because she did come down hard on her, but says she’s not surprised because Lindsey was so attached to Cliff. Tony reveals in a confessional that he’s elated over the development–“you turn the head, the body always follows. It was two for the price of one and it’s beautiful.” L.J. says that it was a “huge, volatile…” and pauses, clearly trying to stop himself from saying “bitch,” and instead says “zit that was waiting to pop.” For the most part, it’s perfect news for the Solana Tribe, save for our dear, handsome, sweet, goofy Woo, who knows that he has just plummeted hard and fast to the bottom. Though he puts on a brave face for the tribe, his confessional says otherwise.”If we were to go to Tribal Council… I could definitely project myself going!” he frets.

Day 15 officially comes, and the seven members of Aparri all seem to collectively die of shock when Solana walks into the reward challenge with neither Cliff nor Lindsey in tow (that is, with the exception of Morgan, whose lack of reaction to almost everything makes her a more and more comically absurd character with each passing episode–but more on that later). Trish can’t help but cackle with joy when Jeff tells them that Lindsey quit–and on some level, you have to hand it to Trish. She may not have intended to do it but she pulled off a true first in Survivor–mind gaming a rival into walking out on their own accord. Sarah is stunned beyond words, and Jeff can’t help but notice that Alexis is overcome with excitement. “I’m happy to see our Beauties still standing, I’m happy of course!” She doesn’t realize it now, but saying this could end up hurting her. Jeff also calls out Spencer nodding in affirmation, and Spencer tells him that while he’s not crazy about someone having quit, he’s not upset with the outcome for himself. “Two people are out of the game and I didn’t have to do anything!” he laughs.

 

First idol to drop loses

Today’s reward challenge is Idol Hands, first seen in Survivor: Philippines. It’s an easy one for production to set up so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear more and more frequently in future seasons. As far as challenges go, it’s pretty simple–one member of each tribe steps into the arena, each holding a platform with an idol on top. The goal is to knock the opponent’s idol off of the platform to the ground. The first idol to touch the ground loses, and the winner scores a point for their tribe. First tribe to four wins reward, and it’s a big one this time–a camp raid. In a reward twist that isn’t used nearly often enough, the winning tribe will send members to the losing tribe to loot items from their camp. If you’re on a tribe that’s not so well off, it’s an opportunity to make camp life a little nicer. If you’re on a tribe where things are already pretty peachy, winning is your only option to ensure that you get to keep all the luxuries you’ve earned. The latter is certainly the case for Aparri, whose reward wins in earlier challenges have given them bedding, fishing gear, cooking supplies, mosquito netting, and a tarp amongst other things. Besides the fact that the original Aparri was the Brawn Tribe, the fact that they had won so many extra amenities and then also had a second bag of rice thanks to Trish were probably key factors in what kept them from being defeated. Well, that and not having J’Tia.

In round one it’s Spencer for Aparri and Woo for Solana. Spencer has a lot of height on Woo, but Woo is a highly trained Tae Kwon Do black belt who has devoted his life to martial arts, so the advantage is in his court. Unfortunately for Woo, Spencer is the bigger Survivor superfan, and has clearly remembered the winning strategy that was used previously in this challenge–after cornering Woo, Spencer chucks his own idol as far into the air as he can and flings himself at Woo, knocking Woo’s idol into the sand before his own idol can hit the grown. Tasha attempts a similar maneuver on Trish in the second round but falls short, tying the scores. Jefra manages to keep her idol out of reach of Sarah, but becomes distracted by Sarah’s offense and drops it. The next round is Jeremiah against L.J. and Jeff’s boner practically tears through his pants and the TV screen as he gushes about the incoming “showdown of bearded, mountain men.” L.J. wins the heat, once again tying the scores as Morgan and Tony head in for their turn. L.J. jokingly warns Tony not to look her in the eyes as to avoid getting sucked in… as if anyone is looking Morgan in the eyes. Regardless of where he was looking, Tony wins the match and it cycles back to Woo and Spencer, with Solana only needing one more point to win. This time, Woo knows what to expect, and he scores the winning point for Solana. After a quick caucus, Tony and Woo decide they’ll head to camp Aparri for the raid. Trish, Jefra and L.J. head back to camp, but before Aparri can leave, Jeff hands Tony a sealed note, instructing him and Woo to find a private place on Aparri’s beach to read it. As the two Solana boys head off, Tony can’t help but be elated to have won the challenge–he feels that Cliff and Lindsey leaving has boosted the morale of the tribe and solidified the group he’s with, and that this is evidenced by their challenge win.

At Camp Aparri, the orange tribe can only stand in wait at camp while Tony and Woo head off to read their secret letter. Once they open it, it turns out that there are two notes within. The first are instructions for the raid, telling them that they can take two of the specifically listed items. What is perhaps more interesting, however, is the second note and what Tony decides to do with it–it’s a clue to a hidden immunity idol, and as Tony and Woo read it, Tony realizes it’s a clue for them to find the idol that (was) hidden at Solana’s camp, as it refers specifically to Solana beach’s rocky coastline. Tony excitedly devises a plan–when they return to the Aparri campground, Tony will tell the group that they’ve been given a clue to an idol and instructions to hand that clue to a member of Aparri. Tony wants to give it to Jeremiah, hoping that it will stir up drama and put a target on Jeremiah’s back. While Woo packs up the raided items, Tony escorts Jeremiah into the jungle to give him the clue. Tony’s plan works immediately, as Tasha casts a suspicious gaze towards them as they vanish into the underbrush.

Though he is a male model, Jeremiah is no Zoolander. He can read good enough to make it through the clue, which he immediately recognizes as the same clue that Solana found as a tribe in the chicken feed after the episode 4 reward challenge. To Jeremiah, it’s obvious that Tony is just trying to stir something up, and is worried that it could compromise his position on the tribe. Before he and Woo leave to return to Solana, Tony wisely decides to turn back and take the clue from Jeremiah, so he won’t be able to show it to the rest of the tribe and verify to Aparri that Tony set him up.

The above image greets us as Woo and Tony return to Solana’s campsite. A poster somewhere online said that it would have been better if we got to see Trish writing it, and someone responded that “they probably didn’t show it because it was someone unexpected like Jefra who did it.” It got a giggle out of me and I can’t help but now imagine that Jefra’s ~secret strategy~ involves passive-aggressive sand messages.

But for now, her up-front strategy involves sticking with Tony, who she knows is playing the game hard–she’s just happy that he’s on her side.  Tony can barely last for two seconds after arriving before he blows up from his self-satisfaction for having bamboozled Aparri. Like a little kid who just saw the cooooolest fight on Power Rangers, he gives L.J., Jefra and Trish the blow-by-blow of how he targeted Jeremiah by giving him a useless clue. With that, his floodgates are opened, and secrets just start spilling out. He reveals to everyone that he was lying about being a construction worker and is really a policeman. The tribe reels from this information as Tony explains in a confessional that he had no bonds with anyone on Aparri save for Trish, but that the vibe of the new five-person Solana Tribe is great and that this is the group he wants to stick with. (Apparently something about this vibe has made him now bond with Woo, who was also on the original Aparri… perhaps the fact that Woo has nowhere to turn?) While most of the tribe seems impressed, L.J. is hesitant. “To solidify that he is trustworthy, Tony exposed that he lied… different,” he laughs. With everything Tony has put on the table, L.J. realizes now more than ever that he’s now in an alliance with a very dangerous and devious player who isn’t as dumb as they appear to be, and that he’s going to have to be on his toes at all times going forward. The Solana fivesome solidifies that they are sticking together as a group until the end, and the secret sharing prompts Trish to make a revelation of her own to the group: “I’m really a man,” she cackles. The camera pans away before we can confirm whether or not she was joking.

From here on out, our business with Solana is pretty much done for the episode, and our story going forward is set in place. If Tony was a villain before, he’s shot into the stratosphere of sheer cartoon character villainy after this episode, and–minor spoilers for later this episode–during the immunity challenge, it only manages to get even worse for him. The editors have positioned Tony for only the mightiest of downfalls, and it’s going to be absolutely amazing when it happens.

Meanwhile, at Aparri…

On Aparri, there isn’t much to do around camp besides sulk over the stolen goods and overthink the results of Tony’s machinations. In particular, the possible idol clue has all the wheels turning for psych student/Survivor superfan Alexis, who sees the incident as only one more reason for her to distrust her former Beauty tribemate Jeremiah. (In case you’ve forgotten, Jeremiah initially landed himself in hot water when he double-crossed Brice, leading Morgan to reveal his double dealings to the entire tribe.) She grabs fellow student/Survivor superfan Spencer to talk strategy on the way to the well and figure out how they’re going to solve the Jeremiah conundrum.

Following the tribe swap, the former Luzon Tribe has effective fused into a single uber-player with three votes at their disposal, moving through the game in constant step with one another. In our post-J’Tia world, the editing for the Brains is now focused on differentiating each of their unique personalities as opposed to simply their strategic positioning. (The fact that the editing is trending this way only gives me further reason to believe that there is high likelihood of an all-Brain final 3.) Tasha is the laser-focused leader–a welcome variant to the types who usually fall into the role of alliance leader. I’m thoroughly enjoying L.J., for example–he’s eloquent and insightful, which makes his perspectives on the game a lot of fun to hear–but he’s pretty standard as far as successful alliance leaders go. As I’ve alluded to in the past, black women in particular usually get a rough deal on Survivor, as more often than not it seems casting goes for people for potential to be big characters as opposed to savvy players. The fact that Tasha has positioned herself at the head of her alliance is impressive in its own right, but it’s also firm proof that if casting tries a little harder and changes their approach, it’s more than just hunky, outdoorsy white guys who can be leaders in this game. If the three-headed Brain does make the finals, the fact that Tasha is recognized as the leader bids well in her favor–it allows her to make more claim to the decisions made and makes her appear to be the most active and important ingredient in the alliance’s success.

Kass–who I love and appreciate and mean no insult to–takes the most backseat role of the three. She’s the team’s comic relief. When the editors show us Kass’ perspective, it’s less for her specific strategic insight and more for her sense of humor. Her skill with one-liners is beginning to near Courtney Yates (of China and Heroes vs. Villains) territory, which is something I am never, ever against. In the long run, I think it is representative of how the other players might see her–amusing but not particularly relevant to the strategic decision making of her alliance–and could be foreshadowing a zero vote performance in the end.

That leaves us with Spencer, who is very much our narrator for the Brains this episode. Preshow, he is someone who Jeff Probst said couldn’t win the game, and based on his preshow interview you can get an idea as to why. In short–he’s kind of a dick. He’s bright as hell, and a very engaging speaker when it comes to articulating strategy and his motivations, but before the show began, it seemed all but set in stone that he was going to be an over the top mega-villain–the character that Tony ended up becoming. As the Luzon Tribe was battered by losses, Spencer became an underdog instead, and I think he probably ended up softening a lot more than he ever anticipated he would. The amount of turmoil he has weathered alongside Kass and Tasha has really bonded the group, and I don’t think that pre-game Spencer would have seen himself as someone who would end up in an emotionally-grounded trio with two women who are each old enough to be his mother. Now, however, that the Brains have settled into a power position, the arrogant side of Spencer is starting to come out. He’s turning more and more into our strategy narrator–but it’s possibly going to expose an element of his personality that could read as impersonal or cold, an element that could work against him in the finals.

“I like girls who own how smart they are and what they can do. Alexis is pretty phony to me, and I think that hurts her,” he remarks after Alexis proposes they take Jeremiah out next. Spencer believes that Alexis is smarter than she lets on and seems to have pre-planned all her arguments, which gives him worry that she’s playing the Brains. As Jeremiah and Morgan have given matching stories to the Brains about Alexis being closely aligned with L.J. and Jefra, it’s not a completely off-base assumption that Alexis could flip back to her old tribe during the merge. But the way Spencer talks about her is almost condescending, as if he’s pitying Alexis for her gameplay.

Alexis and Spencer later join Jeremiah in collecting firewood on the beach, and use the time to get to the bottom of what happened between him and Tony with the idol clue. “Why do you think they gave the clue to you instead of Sarah?” Spencer asks Jeremiah. Which is a good question–and it makes me wonder if Tony realized the possibility that the move would alienate Sarah, whose trust it seemed like he worked hard to gain. Jeremiah redirects the focus, saying that it makes no sense for the losing tribe to get a clue, and then reveals that the clue he received wasn’t new or useful, but the same clue they’d gotten over on the Solana beach. Unfortunately for Jeremiah, he gave the clue back to Tony. “Tony’s made a hell of a mess for me… now I’ve got to clean it up,” drawls the country boy. Jeremiah tells them he believes Tony gave the clue to him to put a target on his back, and Alexis accuses him of being paranoid. Spencer admits the story is hard to buy. “It looked like a real clue to an idol that’s actually here,” Spencer says. “He’s not fooling anyone.”

Come on in, guys!

The tribes arrive at an immunity challenge that looks like it’s going to be a doozy. It’s called Styx and it’s a new challenge, but it combines a lot of previously seen elements from other competitions in seasons past. It’s a long obstacle course that tops off with–what else, a puzzle! The tribes start by assembling a staircase using poles of different lengths, and use the staircase to enter a vertical maze. When they arrive at the top, they’ll untie a knot and slide down the exit to a rope maze, which one castaway will maneuver a key along. Once they’ve gotten their key, the same castaway will use it to unlock a machete and chop through wood and rope to release a series of puzzle pieces. At that point, two different castaways will solve the vertical stacking puzzle, which when completed correctly, will reveal a 3 number combination. Enter the combination, release a flag, win immunity. Simple enough, right?

Because Kass and Alexis sat out last time, they must run this challenge, while Morgan and Tasha sit on the bench. It gives me a bad feeling for Aparri going in–I think the players that sat out would have probably been quicker than the two they were forced to play. Aparri takes an early lead, figuring out the staircase puzzle quickly while Solana misplaces several poles. The vertical maze ends up serving as an equalizer, however, and the tribes are pretty much even when they hit the rope and key, where Jeremiah and Tony are sent out for their respective tribes. They keep even until the end, when Jeremiah pulls ahead, and his lead is only furthered when Tony struggles to unlock his machete while Jeremiah obliterates the wood and rope, allowing for Sarah and Spencer to start on the puzzle. They’ve had plenty of time to start figuring it out by the time that Woo and LJ get to the puzzle. Aparri is quick to get the first number, but Solana is hot on their heels, and the orange tribe hits a snag on the second number–67–which could also be a 29, based on the look of the pieces. Solana figures it out first and whizzes through the final section of the puzzle. L.J. slips on his way to the lock box, but it’s not anywhere near enough to help Aparri catch up. Woo and L.J. enter the correct combination and send the Solana flag rocketing upwards, winning them immunity. Solana explodes into insane celebration, and they huddle up in a giant, jumping group hug. “TOP FIVE, BABY!!!! TOP FIVE!!!!” shouts Tony, in what may be his most obnoxious and most dangerous mistake yet. From across the field, amongst the mourning Aparri Tribe, Sarah can’t help but cast a glare Tony’s way. As Aparri heads back to camp, she notes that Tony just showed his hand–“I counted five people over there, and I wasn’t over there.” Sarah says that her old tribemates have made it clear that they’ve moved on without her, so she vows to do the same, leaving her a free agent going into her first Tribal Council.

Aparri returns to camp for some hard prep before Tribal Council, which Alexis says is “the worst place in the world.” Around the shelter, everyone balks over Tony’s obnoxious behavior, with Jeremiah, Kass and Spencer putting on some choice impersonations. For the members of Aparri, originally scattered across three tribes, Tony’s tell seems to be more than enough to force cohesion going forward. “We’re seven now, and we’re going to be six tomorrow,” Spencer notes. “I don’t get that… how do you think you’re top five when you have less numbers?” Alexis asks. In her confessional, she explains her concerns in greater depth. She points out that for Tony and the Solana Tribe to be confident enough to believe themselves the top five post-merge despite being down in numbers, they have to believe a member of the Aparri Tribe is going to defect and vote with them. And she’s firmly convinced that person is Jeremiah.

Down in the water, Alexis pitches her theory to the rest of the tribe, sans Jeremiah. (Must have taken place while he was in a confessional.) Spencer humors her to her face, agreeing that by giving the clue to Jeremiah, they were signaling a desire to work with him, but once again shoots her down behind the scenes. “Alexis is trying to make us think Jeremiah will flip,” he says but adds that “the Brain Tribe could really go either way right now. In a merge situation, Jeremiah is a liability. It’s a question of who’s the bigger liability–Jeremiah or Alexis? Both have connections on the other side, both could potentially make deals against us… We’ll say yes to Alexis’s plan, we’ll tell her that Jeremiah being blindsided makes sense for us, and then we’ll make the decision of what actually makes sense for us.”

The Brains meet by themselves as the sun begins to lower to confirm what their move is, once and for all. It’s seemed to be the case since the shuffle, but with the first Tribal Council as the new Aparri looming, the proof seems to be in the pudding that the Brains are in complete control. “We just needed people to boss around,” says Kass. “The Brain needed a body… we found our zombies, and now we’re in,” she laughs as the tribe sets off to Tribal Council.

Upon arrival, Sarah–the only castaway to not yet attend Tribal Council, is given her torch to light, and after his fire and life schpeel, everyone sits for the pre-vote grilling. Jeff notes that from an outsiders’ perspective, not knowing anything that has gone down, it would appear that the vote would be a face-off between the three Brains and the three Beauties with Sarah in the middle as the swing vote. Kass says it’s a correct assumption, but Morgan lets Jeff know that the Beauties aren’t unified, namely because of the bad blood between her and Jeremiah.

And a quick (or not so quick) aside–Morgan is the undisputed star of this Tribal Council. She’s, in her own weird way, one of the most fascinating people on this season–because despite being one of the more secondary characters, she manages to make such a strong impression with the simple fact that she appears to be entirely unconcerned with the game precisely 98% of the time. (Thank you, Garrett, for the statistic that keeps on giving that isn’t Ted Rogers’ “150 to 200%” in Thailand.) And when I say “unconcerned,” I don’t mean it as in “she’s not ever worried she could be in trouble,” I mean “she literally seems like she just can’t be bothered to even try to pretend to care.” It’s not that she looks down on the game, or seems like she doesn’t want to be there, or that she isn’t enjoying herself–it’s her vibe of robotic apathy. The only time she even seems to show a hint of emotion is when she’s causing emotional turmoil or when someone is squirming.

The many faces of Morgan McLeod

 

Anyway, Kass notes that the fact the Beauties are so divided takes some of the heat off of the Brains, and elaborates that while the rough patches the Luzon Tribe went through brought the Brains together, the conflict in the “land of the beautiful people” has driven them apart. Spencer says that while the fractures among the Beauties do benefit him and the other Brains, they are fractures that need to be repaired, because they need a larger unified group going forward into the merge. This brings Jeff to Sarah as he expands upon Spencer’s point–“you don’t know what’s going on on the other tribe, you can’t count on old relationships,” he says. Sarah agrees and admits that Tony’s celebrating at the immunity challenge was an eye opener that made her aware she’s now standing alone. Sarah says that if they’re done with her, she’s done with them.

This brings Jeff to Alexis, as he asks if Sarah’s vote is a welcome addition, and while Alexis says it is, she also points out it doesn’t mean someone else still couldn’t flip. This segues into her explaining the events of the Camp Raid and Tony’s mysterious idol clue exchange with Jeremiah. She’s wary of the fact that the rest of the tribe has no way of knowing what really occurred, and Jeremiah defends himself by once again telling the true story. “I seen right through that,” Jeremiah says of Tony’s attempt to put a target on him, “so I hope they believe me.” Alexis admits that she doesn’t trust Jeremiah, and says that while he claims it was their attempt to put a target on him, she still believes it was their way of establishing a connection with him. Suddenly, Morgan awakens from her coma to point out that both Jeremiah and Alexis are flight risks come the merge. Sarah is glad for anything that takes the heat off of her, and re-affirms that she is solid with this tribe, though she is still certain someone will flip. Alexis agrees with Sarah, and points out that of the three people with connections on the other side–Sarah, Jeremiah, and herself–only Jeremiah has proven that he’s willing to break his promises. Spencer closes out the grilling by saying the vote is probably the most important one of the game–if they make the wrong choice, they’ve guaranteed that they’ll be walking out the door, one after the other. With that, it’s time to vote.

Alexis casts her vote against Jeremiah, saying it only takes one lie to break her trust and he’s lied, “like, a hundred times.” Jeremiah casts his vote against Alexis in turn. We don’t see any of the other votes, only an overhead of Morgan whispering “there’s no doubt in my mind you’re gonna flip… so you have to go.”

Jeff collects the vote and asks if anyone wants to play an idol–there aren’t any on this Tribe to play, so obviously nobody does, and we get to the votes. The first is against Jeremiah, but the rest roll in one after the other for Alexis, and by a unanimous decision, she becomes the 7th to leave and the 6th person voted out of Survivor: Cagayan.

She doesn’t take it well.

 

The fact that she doesn’t take it well only makes Morgan enjoy it all the more

 

Alexis has her torch snuffed and she walks out of Tribal Council in tears. It’s simultaneously kind of funny, but also a little heartbreaking, as I can’t help but feel for a superfan when they’re voted out of this show. I guess I had assumed that given castings love of recruiting hot model types that Alexis was a run of the mill recruit, but it turns out she was actually a long time and devoted fan. Her day after video and her secret scene definitely show that she has a pretty solid working knowledge of the game–but like many a fan before her, the experience of understanding the game from the outside and the experience of actually playing it prove to be far more different than they expected. (I also like that the secret scene is only further proof that Morgan just does not care about anything.) It makes the tears she was so quick to shed upon leaving make a little more sense, and while I feel bad for the girl, fundamentally, she was one of the less interesting characters remaining so losing her doesn’t feel like it’s taking anything away from the show.

 

NEXT TIME ON… SURVIVOR!
Two become one as the merge hits, and Sarah is in the middle–will she stick with her old allies or her new ones? I call a red herring–there really isn’t much of a choice to make. Tony is being set up for a downfall and his story is so intertwined with Sarah’s that I couldn’t see that downfall not involving her. Still, both of the idols are in the hands of the Solana Tribe, so even with a solid six, a member of Aparri could still go home. With the level of unpredictability and intrigue in this season so far, I have a good feeling that the merge will only be a continuation of the roller coaster we’ve been on.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6, Episode 5 Recap- “Snatch Game”

So Survivor is always going to be the O.G. of Reality TV, but that doesn’t mean I don’t branch out. And a show that everyone should branch out for is Logo’s only relevant item of programming, RuPaul’s Drag Race and its companion after show, Untucked. It’s the perfect mix of humor, smart editing, and over the top gayness.

Now in its sixth season, Drag Race has a pretty simple format–a group of drag queens are assembled to compete in hopes of being named “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” winning a headlining role in a nationwide tour and a hefty cash prize of a hundred grand. What makes it unique among the myriad of Reality Shows in the “Talent/Job Search” genre is that it is quite possibly the only Reality Show that is actually the pinnacle of its specific field. No girl really gets to says she’s made the big time as a drag queen if she hasn’t done Drag Race. It is the primary platform for drag queens to get their face out there beyond their local scenes.

Besides the very real difference of giving the contestants an actual career boost, the show is pretty par course for the genre in terms of the game format. Each week, the queens are usually given two challenges–a mini-challenge that is seldom relevant to anything and is primarily used as a method of selecting team captains and/or handing out advantages, and the Main Challenge, which matters so we’re putting it in capitals. This Main Challenge is the biggest piece of the puzzle, and its what the judging panel will primarily be evaluating from week to week. Each week, the queens meet the judges–Project Runway alum and fashion designer Santino Rice; radio personality and long time friend of RuPual Michelle Visage; and RuPaul herself, along with two weekly guest judges–out on the Drag Race Main Stage. Each judging session is preceded by a runway show, which is usually given a theme that the queens must adhere to. As with many other shows, the queens are then split into two groups–the safe contestants who fill out the middle, and the top 3 and bottom 3 performers, who remain onstage for critique. After grilling each queen, the judges deliberate, determining who is the winner of that week’s main challenge and which two queens have performed the worst and will risk elimination. Those bottom two queens then compete in a Lip Sync battle to a predetermined song, with RuPaul reserving final judgement. At the end of the number, RuPaul decides which of the bottom two queens lives to see another day, and who must “sashay away.”

One of the places where Drag Race differs majorly is that there is no majestic RuPaul Reality Mansion that the girls are forced to live in during filming. The contestants stay in a hotel during their duration in the competition and are, unusually for a reality show, not filmed when they are not competing. The show occurs entirely on set, with us viewers not seeing anything that occurs outside of the workroom, sound stage, or judging panel. To give us a little more insider dirt that we’re missing out on, each hour long episode of Drag Race is followed by the 30 minute after show, Untucked, which shows us the other side of judging as the queens await their fate backstage in the Absolut Vodka Lounge. (One of the many, many, many running gags of the series is a complete lack of shame surrounding product placement.) While they are technically two separate shows, they really go hand in hand, and it’s difficult to understand one fully without having the other.

In the previous episode, the queens had to perform acts one and two of “Shade: The Rusical,” a musical extravaganza that proved to be one of the most solidly delivered challenges in the entire series. Whereas some challenges have seen queens who are clearly out of their league screw up big time, everyone turned in a solid performance onstage, with former Australian Idol contestant Courtney Act and former American Idol contestant Adore Delano having standout performances (as would be expected of the singers in the group). Having to pick the bottom two in a challenge where nobody was really bad proved a tough task for the judges, but a choice had to be made and it was debbie-downer Trinity Kardashian Bonet and sweet but underwhelming April Carrión who had to Lip Sync for their Lives. After complaining through every single challenge thusfar that sewing/acting/singing/whatever is not what she does as a drag queen, Trinity finally showed why she was on the show in the first place with a crushing performance, and it was April who sashayed away.

The surviving ten queens return to the workroom after April’s elimination and get to de-dragging and dirt dishing. Plus-sized queen Darienne Lake is surprised to have been one of the bottom three performers while Milk, one of the seasons more unusual queens, skated by safe. Every season features a variety of queens with very different approaches to drag, and Milk is this season’s token Weirdo. Whereas other girls might go for glamour, beauty, or illusion, Milk goes straight for weird, painting on giant lips, gap teeth, and high concepts. For example, in the second episode, Milk wore a beard on the runway, and dressed up as Pinocchio the following week, complete with a giant nose.

 

Nose goes.

Given the previous week’s Musical Theatre inspired challenge, the girls were asked to glam it up for the runway in a “Tony Awards Realness” look. For those unfamiliar, Drag Race has a lot of it’s own language that can be a little difficult to get the hang of at first. “Realness” is sort of a catch-all applied to a descriptor to explain what specific inspiration the queen is drawing from ie; Evil Henchwoman Realness, Executive Power Suit Realness, etc. Darienne is nonplussed because while she and the other girls took the challenge of delivering a glamorous look that one could realistically expect to see a Broadway star wear to an award ceremony, Milk once again took things in a gimmicky direction.

“I was giving you Adele going to the Tony’s…”

“…not Phyllis Diller going to the delivery room.”

This is not the first time on the series that a quirky queen has come under fire for eschewing glamor in the name of comedy, but sadly for Milk, it’s not a completely invalid criticism. The judges are clear that America’s Next Drag Superstar has to be someone who is versatile–someone who can deliver comedy and concept, but someone who can also look drop dead gorgeous when asked to. For every runway look so far, Milk has had some sort of prop–the beard, the nose, and now the baby bump–but unlike past queens with a quirky flare, she hasn’t been backing it up with big personality and hilarious, scene stealing performances in the main challenges. So far, it really does feel like Milk has been relying on gimmicks to squeak by.

While undressing, Laganja Estranja, one of the youngest queens, fills in buddy Adore Delano on what went down with the girls declared “safe” backstage while the top and bottom girls, of which Adore was one of the top, were dealing with the judges. As is par course for each episode of Untucked, production milks out some tear-droplets by delivering one of the safe queens a video message from home. In any reality competition, the complete isolation from the outside world while dealing with the stress of competition is a perfect mechanism to break people down and make them emotional about missing their friends and family. When the contestants are all drag queens, it only ups the ante, as a good portion of the contestants usually have strained relationships with their family, who don’t always totally get what it is that their sons do. For these queens, these messages from home are often all the more meaningful–for some of them, it’s the first time in years they’ve heard from their parents and/or the first time their parents have told them they’re accepting of what they do and are pulling for them to win.

Anyway, last week, it was Laganja’s turn for a tearful message from home, except it turns out she’s not one of the girls whose parents completely disowned her. While they’re still wrapping their heads around the world of drag, Laganja makes it clear that they’ve never been anything but loving towards her. Regardless, hearing from home feels good and Laganja became emotional upon viewing her parents message–and then became upset when she felt the other queens weren’t respecting her moment. A sepia toned flashback (a beloved staple of the reality tv genre) shows Bianca Del Rio, a queen whose major arena is insult comedy, attempting to lighten the mood backstage with a joke. “I think your parents are absolutely lovely,” Bianca tells a teary eyed Laganja, “the only thing I disagree with is that they think you’re going to win!” The other queens erupt in laughter but Laganja is clearly not amused, and is quick to drag the mood down by accusing the other queens of stealing her moment and making it about them. The whole accusation is bizarre and sets up what appears to be Laganja’s new defining character trait–a constant need for drama and attention.

The theme song plays us into the next day as the queens enter the workroom, fresh and renewed for challenge number 5. This week’s is going to be a big one–so big that we end up completely skipping the mini-challenge to focus on it.

Before we get our weekly She-Mail, however, everyone has to make an entrance, and by everyone, I mean Laganja, who comes in dressed in a bedazzled bellyshirt, and a headpiece that looks like a cross between Erykah Badu’s leftovers and Elisabeth Hasslebeck nee Filarski’s long forgotten “lucky headdress” from Survivor: The Australian Outback (back before she was famous for being a right-wing talking head). Bianca calls it a “macrame pot-holder” and I can’t help but snort. Laganja can’t help but serve her outfit with a big side of affect. Bianca asks what happened to the hanging plant that was in the wrap before Laganja put it on her head, and Laganja replies that she smoked it. “That explains the fashion choice,” Bianca retorts. The older and more experienced “Queen of Mean” is unflappable, and Laganja blows her off via confessional.

With that, RuPaul’s voice comes over the intercom–“Oooh girl, you’ve got She-Mail!” and we jump into this week’s game. After getting a video message that seems to be a homage to Youtube personality Lohanthony, RuPaul enters the workroom to deliver the challenge. It’s time for everyone’s favorite once-a-season challenge, the one that truly separates the queens from the princesses–Snatch Game.

Over six years, there are a number of types of challenges that you can be pretty sure will come up. At some point there will be a sewing challenge, an acting challenge, a singing challenge, a dancing challenge, etc… but the specifics of these will change from season to season. The only constant, unchanging challenge in Drag Race is the Snatch Game, a parody of 70’s game show The Match Game.

If you were not watching in the 70’s, or were not alive and never had access to daytime reruns on GSN, I’ll explain The Match Game. A panel of “celebrities” would be given a statement, usually some sort of joke, with a blank somewhere in the sentence. The celebrities would then each write down a possible answer for what could go in the blank. (As an example, the statement could be “Fat Fanny is so fat, she brushes her teeth with _____ instead of toothpaste!” A possible answer would be “butter.”) The host would then turn his attentions to our contestants, everyday people who would have to try and guess what they think could go in the blank, and see how many of the celebrities said the same thing. Every match is worth a point, but the game isn’t really the point of the show at all. It’s not about the contestants, but the celebrity panelists, who usually used their answers as a chance to make a joke and score some laughs from the audience.

The Snatch Game is Drag Race’s loving homage, and just as in the original show, it’s not really about making matches–it’s about making jokes. Each queen is tasked to impersonate a celebrity of her choosing, and the only real rule is that no matter what else you do, make it funny. First and foremost, this is a comedy challenge. And in spite of the fact that everyone knows it’s coming, season after season, we see queens making the same exact mistakes. They are the proverbial girl in the horror movie who you are begging not to go in the basement, letting you down when they go in the basement anyway and are immediately serial killed.

How to Fuck Up the Snatch Game, Option A: Pick a Boring Character
Season after season, we have queens who forget that the goal is comedy, not glamor. Many queens often pick beautiful and glamorous singers or actresses who are pretty to look at but don’t really have any inherent qualities that make them easily translate to comedy challenges. In addition, these queens often seem to miss the idea of physical comedy completely, and seem afraid to risk going ugly when they could play someone beautiful.

Season 2’s Morgan McMichaels originated this blunder by playing P!nk

 

Season 5’s Coco Montrese may Lip Sync as Janet Jackson in her Vegas show, but couldn’t make her funny for Snatch Game

 

Season 2’s Pandora Boxx nails it, unafraid to get ugly as Carol Channing.

How to Fuck Up the Snatch Game, Option B: Pick Someone You Respect Too Much to Mock
Not every beautiful, glamorous celebrity is inherently unfunny, of course. The problem that past queens have run into is when they pick a celebrity in which the best available jokes can be made at their expense, yet the queen has too much respect for the artist they’re embodying to risk insulting them. This tends to lead to bland performances out of characters who, at first glance, could be funny.

Season 4’s Phi Phi O’Hara blows her attempt at Lady Gaga by making her jokes all about “Little Monsters” instead of poking fun at how seriously Lady Gaga takes herself

 

Season 5’s Detox Icunt fails to bring the funny to Ke$ha, as the singer is a personal friend of hers

 

The industry’s foremost Cher impersonator, Season 4’s Chad Michaels, knocks it out of the park, not afraid to bring humor to his respected idol

 

How to Fuck Up the Snatch Game, Option C: Not Having a Game Plan
Again, this challenge is recurring. They’ve had it on every season since it’s introduction in season 2, so it really doesn’t matter if in your everyday drag career that you don’t do celebrity impersonations. Despite the fact that this is the challenge that the contestants have the most time to prepare for, you still end up with queens who have no idea who they’re going to impersonate or how they’re going to make them funny.

Season 5’s Lineysha Sparxxx, barely able to speak English, didn’t seem to consider the fact that she didn’t have any material for her intended Michelle Obama. An attempted last minute switch to salsa singer Celia Cruz didn’t fare much better.

 

Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon says what we’re all thinking: You know this is coming, you should have a character in mind the moment you send in your audition tape. Her Little Edie of Grey Gardens remains one of the best executed Snatch Game performances in Drag Race Herstory.

With the Snatch Game in place, the contestants are given the rest of the day to prep their looks and get themselves into character before they head out to play.

As the girls prep, we go around the room and learn who each queen is planning to become for this iconic challenge. Laganja is planning on tackling prominent fashion stylist Rachel Zoe, who became visible to the non-fashion world as a celebrity personality via her Bravo show The Rachel Zoe Project. I personally only know Rachel from her appearances as a guest judge on America’s Next Top Model, where found her to be kind of insufferable. As Zoe is a woman who is armed to the teeth with catchphrases and strong opinions, I don’t think she’s a terrible choice for the Snatch Game, but Laganja seems more focused on nailing Rachel Zoe’s looks and voice.

Bianca is smartly playing to her strengths as she sprays her wig into place to become Judge Judy. Though TV’s most famously no-holds-barred judge is a good match for Ms. Del Rio, she starts to sweat when one of the other queens, the surprisingly funny Joslyn Fox, tells her that Judge Judy is RuPaul’s favorite TV show. RuPaul himself affirms this fact when he comes to visit the workroom, revealing that he makes a point to catch the show every day. Bianca is fully aware that playing a character that RuPaul knows and loves so intimately is a risk, but isn’t letting that risk deter her.

Ru checks in with each of the queens as he visits them at their work stations. Adore is prepping a blonde wig for a turn as Anna Nicole Smith, and reveals to Ru that he’s always identified with her craziness and that she inspired a lot of the Adore Delano character. Her preview of the Anna Nicole voice is hilariously spot on, leaving  RuPaul in stitches, and Adore seems to be in a good spot going into this challenge. I’ll admit that at the start of the season, I really did not care for Ms. Delano, who I found annoying and forced, but as she gets her act together more and more on the show, she finds more and more avenues to impress me. I’m not 100% sold on her just yet, but it’s clear she’s being set up as a long term character, so I might as well just shut up and enjoy the ride.

Ben DeLa Creme, who has been a pretty consistent frontrunner so far (and is adorable out of drag, holy cow!), is less confident, as she does not do celebrity impersonations and hasn’t quite figured out the exact angle she’s going to use to bring humor to her choice, Dame Maggie Smith. RuPaul seems unimpressed and suggests that DeLa consider another option, but DeLa’s preview of her second choice, Drag Race Season 5 gif machine/quote maker Alyssa Edwards, gives RuPaul nothing but pause, leaving DeLa in a minor panic as she continues her preparations.

Milk is planning to become Julia Child, who seems like a safe pick given Child’s larger-than-life personality and naturally draggish manner. In spite of this, Milk doesn’t appear to have figured out how he’s going to approach the character, and tells RuPaul that “I’d rather you have low expectations so I can blow you away.” “You’ve succeeded,” Ru snarks in return, clearly not impressed.

Ru makes his way to Gia Gunn, who the editors have been absolutely merciless in mocking this season. Gia has been bucking the “smart Asian” stereotype all season long with her valley girl idiocy. She also seems to be taking the role this season of a character that’s almost always a sure bet–the queen who doesn’t seem to understand that winning Drag Race requires more than being fishy. (For the uninitiated, “fish” is drag lingo for when a queen is extremely beautiful and/or passes as a biological woman.) Gia reveals to RuPaul that she’s planning on doing Selena-Not-Gomez, as in the Tejano music mega-star who was infamously shot dead by a psychotic fan at the prime of her career. This is a clear violation of the “Don’t Fuck Up the Snatch Game” rules, and RuPaul implores her to reconsider, and I agree completely. Gia struggles to be clever as is and doesn’t have the chops to even bring comedy to such an inherently un-funny character. After RuPaul walks off and the minutes to showtime get ever closer, Gia reveals to the other girls that she’s considering switching characters, but isn’t sure to who. Bianca notes that Gia is putting on her makeup, but doesn’t even know who she’s going to be.

All dragged up, the queens take the stage and the show begins. Today’s Snatch Game contestants (and guest judges) are Chelsea Lately writer and presenter Heather McDonald and a personal treat for me, Community’s Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta Perry, a fictionalized version of me. She is also a Drag Race superfan, who excitedly shares with RuPaul that she’s never missed an episode.

There is a lot of good happening in this challenge as RuPaul goes through the introduction for each celebrity/queen. Many of the queens make a great first impression, including Judge Judy/Bianca and Anna Nicole/Adore. Darienne Lake is on point as disgraced former Food Network star Paula Deen, but it’s Joslyn Fox who absolutely has me in stitches, killing her intro as Real Housewives of New Jersey‘s table flipping uber-villain Teresa Giudice. “Well, it was Jew-dice,” Joslyn explains in a dead-on voice when RuPaul can’t pronounce her name, “and then I realized it was jew-dee-chay, but we went all the way back to the old country and it’s actually pronounced… wait, let me see if I can say it… Johnson.”

Courtney Act plays it safe as Fran Drescher, pulling out a very middle of the road performance that is almost a sure-fire “safe” for her this week–not a winner, but certainly not the worst. Trinity K. Bonet has chosen Nicki Minaj, which has me concerned for her, as there seems to be a clear danger of losing the humor if Trinity takes the character too seriously. She misses the first set-up for a joke that Ru gives her, and it seems like once again, we’ve found a challenge that isn’t in Trinity’s wheelhouse.

Gia shows that in the end, she has indeed decided to abandon ship from Selena, opting instead to portray Kim Kardashian. It’s not a bad choice for the challenge, as someone who is famous basically just for being famous could be pretty easy to make fun of, but Gia obviously hasn’t thought it through and is winging it 100%. On top of it all, there’s nothing about her costume or styling that immediately reads as being Kim Kardashian specifically. Switching to a different character may have been the right move, but I don’t think Gia is clever enough to make the character funny.

 

Throughout, Most of the girls are great. “What did I win?” slurs Anna Nicole/Adore drunkenly after making a match, scoring big chuckles. Bianca in particular stands out as she embodies Judge Judy’s snark and apparent hatred of everyone, making fun of Rachel Zoe/Laganja’s robotic delivery. “Uh, Ru, is this girl over here a robot? Is someone pressing a button?”  “BEAUTY FADES!!!” she screams, banging her gavel at Kim/Gia, salvaging a joke that Gia has clearly missed.

DeLa’s Maggie Smith, however, steals every single scene with her intentionally over-antiquated English and her clever comebacks to the other queens. He embodies her fully, nailing the aged voice and British accent, and brings tons of humor by making her Maggie Smith overly stuffy, formal, and out of touch with the times. For a question about Twitter she says she doesn’t understand the question and answers “Songbird,” written with perfect penmanship, and when called on her overly-proper speech retorts that “we originated the English language!” Her funniest joke, however, comes when the prompt is “Chelsea Handler is so wrong, she’s launching a new vodka that’s flavored with ______.” Maggie Smith/DeLa can barely contain her laughter as she suggests it would be “rather amusing if there were libation flavored with… Citrus! Can you imagine such a thing?” Teresa/Joslyn suggests cumin, but intentionally continues to mispronounce it as “come in.” She’s another stand out as far as I’m concerned.

All in all, the Snatch Game is a gas, but given how many girls really turned in solid performances, the weaker queens in the bunch only manage to stick out like sore thumbs. Nicki/Trinity attempts a joke based around a wig change, which is quickly dismissed by Bianca in a confessional, as the wig change gag was already done better in Season 4 by Chad Michaels as Cher. Kim/Gia doesn’t manage to hit a single high point, and Rachel Zoe/Laganja is eerily robotic and static. And pardon the pun, but Chef Child would be disappointed in Milk, whose performance is half-baked, barely registering.

With the Main Challenge over and done, the queens start gussying up for the runway, where tonight’s theme is the “Night of 1000 Ru’s,” challenging each queen to stomp it out in one of RuPaul’s many famous looks. While getting prepared, Bianca shows an unexpected motherly side, offering one of her waist cinchers to Adore, who was criticized in the previous runway for not using one. Adore admits to having some insecurity with her bodies, and DeLa opens up about her own body issues, segwaying into a tear-jerker of a confessional where she recounts her time in high school where she was bullied relentlessly for both her sexuality and her weight, the latter of which she has since shed. She reveals that what made it all the more difficult was the death of his mother at 13, taking away the support system that reassured her that she was good enough. It’s a touching moment and a common device used in reality tv editing that I like to call “secret sharing.” Characters are given a new prominence when they open up to the audience and share something deeply personal. It can be used as either an indicator of success or failure, and given that we’re getting it on the heels of DeLa’s incredible Snatch Game performance, it seems pretty clear that she’s the winner of the challenge this week.

Out on the runway, the queens take turns doing their best take on RuPaul.

Joslyn Fox

 

Gia Gunn

 

Darienne Lake

 

Laganja Estranja

 

Bianca Del Rio

 

Adore Delano

 

Trinity K. Bonet

 

Ben DeLa Creme

 

Courtney Act

 

Milk

 

The second Milk hits the runway my jaw drops. If there is one thing the Drag Race judges hate, it’s when a queen does boy-drag. While I understand that the world of drag is complex and leaves a lot of room for a variety of gender expressions, there is an implication that drag=presenting as another gender, and the judges almost always feel cheated out of what they were promised when a contestant dresses up as a male character. This was the last look Milk needed to show.

The queens line up on stage and Ru calls Courtney, Darienne, Joslyn and Trinity as safe and dismisses them backstage.  This puts Bianca, Adore, and DeLa in the top 3, and Gia, Laganja, and Milk in the bottom 3. It’s not a surprising result, and while I personally loved Joslyn’s performance and would have loved to see her break into the top, the competition this week was super tough and the judge’s top 3 are certainly hard to argue with. Michelle tells Bianca she’s been waiting for someone to do Judge Judy and is glad Bianca did justice to the character, while Gillian applauds her interactivity with the other queens. Michelle feels that Adore dropped the ball with the look and that it doesn’t read as RuPaul, but is thrilled that she took he advice given to her by cinching her waist. Her performance as Anna Nicole is also praised. DeLa’s Maggie Smith is also heaped with praise, with Gillian admitting that she was repeating DeLa’s jokes all day.

For the bottom queens, the news is less good. Gia didn’t impress with her flat choice as Kim Kardashian, and when RuPaul asks why she switched from her original choice of Selena, Gia says that it’s because she realized Selena wasn’t a good comedy character. Ru is shocked that it took her until she was in the workroom to come to that realization. As is everyone watching at home. “At lot could have been forgiven if you were funny, but you were not funny,” says Mother Ru. Michelle thinks that Laganja’s Rachel Zoe was “Chicken lady from Kids in the Hall” and Gillian wants to know why she didn’t use a catchphrase cheat-sheet–Laganja says that she did use one. Ouch. She admits that she got into her own head, and that when the other queens began picking up the caliber, she let herself fall back. Of Milk’s look, Michelle says she is partially offended by it, but partially finds it genius, because it is RuPaul, after all. When Milk says that she wanted to do something “shocking,” Santino pipes up that Milk’s look didn’t shock at all–what would have really been a surprise would have been for Milk to come out with high glamor and blown them away. Though I’m not always crazy about Mr. Rice’s critiques, I agree with him here–this was a misstep for Milk, as it just came off like another gimmick as opposed to something thoughtful or unexpected. Milk says that she wanted to stay true to her style of drag, which isn’t glamor. She admits that she’s worried if she tried to put a beautiful look, she’d stand out for the wrong reasons. RuPaul tells her that it’s hard for people to really fall in love with someone who is afraid to show vulnerability. Ding ding ding! Milk is a queen who I’ve wanted to really get behind, but it really has felt like her wackiness is a safety net as opposed to a drag perspective.

The girls are sent off so the judges can decide who wins and who is going to Lip Sync. Bianca’s Judge Judy gets top marks, but her runway look wasn’t the favorite. Michelle says that Laganja was more William Shatner than Rachel Zoe, and Gillian thinks it’s clear that she let her nerves get the better of her. Adore’s Anna Nicole was undeniably spot on and fun to watch, but the judges weren’t crazy about the runway look and Heather says that when she realized how similar Adore’s normal personality is to the one she exhibited in her character, it made the performance less impressive. Both guest judges agree that DeLa was superior in both her Snatch Game performance and runway look, but Michelle feels like she’s seen “old lady” out of DeLa and wants something different. (They’ll find anything to pick apart, won’t they?) Gia’s runway look is torn to shreds, with Santino comparing it to a store-bought Halloween costume out of a bag and Michelle thinking her makeup made her look like “a crack ho.” Michelle also criticizes Gia’s choice in Snatch Game character, but RuPaul and Gillian disagree, thinking that the character could have been funny if Gia had played it up and made it funny. Milk’s Julia Child in no way redeemed her poor runway choice. Gillian says she understands Milk’s conflict about wanting to stay true to her drag, but then says that in her experience as a superfan in the audience, whenever a queen says that they’re staying true to their drag, they’re gone shortly thereafter. Ouch.

The girls come back on-stage for final verdicts. DeLa is the winner (shocker!) which makes her the first queen to win two challenge and  makes Adore and Bianca safe. The last queen to be spared is Milk, which I’ll admit I’m a little surprised by, and it’s down to Gia Gunn vs. Laganja Estranja in a Lip Sync to Head to Toe by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. Laganja brings high energy and death drops, while Gia claims that she’s “vouging and giving face” but it really just feels like she’s standing there. Courtney tries to politely compliment Gia by calling it her “controlled style of drag.” Gia goes for a costume reveal but butchers it by taking too long to get out of her dress. By the end of the song, Laganja has earned her keep for sure. Chantay, she stays. Gia Gunn sashays away, but not before calling out to the other queens to tell them “You’re still all dudes!” She bitches and moans about being outlasted by girls who aren’t as pretty as her before leaving the work room for good.

All in all, it was another solid episode for this season that once again highlighted the extreme level of talent in the cast. In previous seasons we’ve seen Snatch Games that were mostly duds with a few bright spots, so this is a welcome change. While I would have liked to see Joslyn in the top, and think Milk probably should have been in the bottom, I agreed with the overall outcome of DeLa winning and Gia leaving. As amusing as it was to see the editors poke fun at Gia’s lack of intellect, it was a gag that was threatening to run out of steam quickly–much as Gia’s general lack of depth meant she was quickly running out of things to show us.

Survivor: Cagayan, Episode 5 Recap- “Odd One Out”

Previously on… SURVIVOR!

Three tribes continued to battle it out in Cagayan, Philippines. And by three tribes battling it out, I mean two tribes battling for first and second place while the third, the Brains, keeps losing. This is a problem for the last male Brain standing, Spencer, who stands a good chance of being voted out by the women. His saving grace may come from Sarah on the Brawn Tribe, who sets in motion a plan to throw the challenge so they can vote out mega-threat Cliff–but sure enough, the Brains still manage to lose out to a tribe that was actively trying to throw the challenge. Ouch. At Tribal Council, Tasha and Kass decide to shift their gameplan and go with Spencer, the stronger challenge competitor, rather than their volatile ally J’Tia, and the supposed nuclear engineer finds herself voted out. 14 remain… who will be voted out tonight?

The Brains return to their sad camp after having voted out their third tribe mate, leaving only Tasha, Kass, and Spencer remaining. The trio clings to whatever optimism they can muster, though you can tell this is tough for the naturally cynical Kass. Spencer, on the other hand, is simply glad to still be in the game, having convinced Tasha and Kass to spare him. While it’s certainly possible he could screw them in the long run, right now it seems like Spencer is all about proving his loyalty to the ladies who kept him. “This could be the final three,” he says to the others in the shelter, “all that stands between us is two whole tribes.” Foreshadowing? Please?

As Kass cooks the remaining 2% of the rice the next morning, Tasha arrives with Tree Mail, alerting the gang that a reward challenge is coming and they might finally be able to eat. The Brains head off to the next challenge, with Tasha hopeful that this is the start of their comeback. She has no idea. But we do! You see, the previews for this episode have been focused entirely around those three fateful words–“drop your buffs.”

That’s right–after arriving at the challenge, Jeff has each castaway discard their old buff as the remaining 14 castaways randomly draw for spots on two new tribes, meaning that Brains vs Beauty vs Brawn is no more. Or that’s what it means in theory. As the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, so it goes to reason that the allegiances people have on their new tribes depend on which members of their original tribe they end up with.

Anyway, as random shuffles are sometimes doomed to go, not everyone gets shuffled. The three Brains all pull orange buffs, causing them to fuse into a three headed dragon as they join the New Aparri Tribe. Also along for the ride are Morgan, Alexis, and Jeremiah from the Beauty Tribe, Solana. Good Cop Sarah rounds them out, making her the only original Aparri member to stay on her tribe. The other five Brawns–Bad Cop Tony, Woo, Lindsey, Uncle Cliffy and Malnutrisha–all draw Solana purple and immediately swarm the mat, joining original Solana members Jefra and L.J. The way the numbers have fallen seem to have immediately established pecking orders for the new tribe, leaving Sarah, L.J., and Jefra in particular feeling vulnerable.

The first challenge as new tribes is for a reward of donughts and coffee and is a Survivor classic called “Kicking and Screaming,” originally used in Survivor: Cook Islands (better known as Survivor: Isles of Racism).

Pretend your a stripper and cling to that pole like the rent is due tomorrow

The game is played in rounds, with one player from each tribe having a simple goal of holding on to a pole for dear life while two members of the other tribe do everything in their power to dislodge them and then drag them across the field and over the finish line. First tribe to get their bounty over the line scores a point, and the first to an intentionally unstated number of points wins overall. It’s a brutal challenge that’s always fun to watch, but it doesn’t leave any room for a less physical tribe to bounce back on a mental portion. I think we all know how this is going to pan out. Even though Tasha says she’s excited for her new tribe because they seem strong in challenges, I think we all know she’s really just excited to be on a new tribe and out of the danger zone–because given how the cards have fallen, it seems pretty clear that it’s Solana, stacked with almost all the former Brawn–is at an advantage in a challenge like this. Tasha manages to win the first round for Aparri by proving completely immovable against Trish and Jefra, while Lindsey fares less well for Solana, eventually being bested by Sarah and Morgan.

After this, it’s all downhill for Aparri in this challenge. Former NBA All-Star and certified giant Cliff takes the pole for Solana and is predictably impossible for poor Spencer and Jeremiah to budge. By comparison, Aparri puts in petite little Alexis, who is torn from her pole in all of three seconds and literally dragged by her ankle by L.J. through the sand as she flails helplessly. After a suspicious cut to the very last round, we’re at the game point and Cliff once again takes the pole for Solana. This time, the Aparri boys are actually able to get his 30-foot long limbs unwrapped from around the pole, but it’s too little, too late. Despite her best efforts to fend off Tony and Lindsey, Sarah is pulled across the finish line, meaning that Solana wins reward and that even with a whole new tribe full of people, the Brains still can’t catch a break.

Solana returns to camp with donughts, coffee, and a whole new dynamic to their tribe. While the overall mood is joyful, as you’d expect it to be when starving people get food, L.J. is all game, and is starkly aware of the reality of the numbers. He points out the obvious–he and Jefra are now on the outs, the only original Solana members on a tribe filled with invaders from Aparri. L.J. knows he has two advantages that could potentially help him survive this unlucky draw–one of which is his Hidden Immunity Idol, which he reasons would only buy him a few extra days. The other ball in his court is the fact that he’s L.J., the most well-rounded castaway this season, so he hopes he can convince the former Aparri members that he’s an asset in challenges and not worth discarding.

It doesn’t take long for L.J.’s plan to set in motion–there is one member of the former Aparri who very quickly takes a liking to him, and it’s Trish. The moment that she finds out L.J. is also from Massachusetts, her vagina all but falls open as she is possessed by the spirit of a girlish crush. Trish swoons about how L.J. is so great and he’s handsome and laid back and a gentleman and not high maintenance like she assumed the Beauties would be. She gushes about the fact that he’s also from Boston and says that’s probably why she’s always thought he was cute. L.J. casually mentions being single and Trish can hardly contain her excitement or her giggling. Despite all this, Trish claims she’s only likes L.J., you know, as a friend, and that she’s not a cougar or anything like that… sure. L.J. for his part doesn’t really care–be it a shared hometown or sex appeal, Trish is into him, and she’s the only beacon of hope right now for him and Jefra, so he’ll happily take advantage of it. Lindsey, on the other hand, is nauseated, much as she is by everything else about Malnutrisha, and she is more than happy to rant about it to the camera. “You’re fifty, stop trying to get attention from twenty year old men, seriously,” she snarks with an eye roll. While she may have a point about Trish’s heavy-handed flirting, her math needs a little work. Whatever–this isn’t the Brains Tribe.

Besides being annoying, however, the other Brawns don’t seem too worried about Trish. Sure, Cliff says that he hated seeing Trish draw purple, but he and Woo agree it was basically the only bad part of how the swap went down. The plan seems simple–five Brawn strong. Cliff, as a result of having eyes and ears, is aware of Trish’s new love interest, and ominously threatens via confessional that if Trish plays emotionally, he’ll deal with the situation accordingly.

Elsewhere, on another island, Sarah leads her gaggle of new tribemates to the Aparri camp, desperate to figure out how she can keep herself from becoming a target due to her isolation as the only member of her original tribe. She immediately engages the group in a covert trust exercise, explaining that they have two bags of rice because Trish did the right thing. This is shocking news to Alexis, who, like the other Beauties, had no idea about the offer that was made to the banished castaways on the first day. This is because Morgan is a big, fat liar. Morgan is immediately displeased with Sarah outing her, but it was just what the Good Cop needed to shift the attention away from her. Morgan confesses to the tribe that she took the clue and kept it a secret, but adamantly maintains that she didn’t actually find the idol. As far as Alexis is concerned, it doesn’t matter if she has it or not–it’s just another red flag on Morgan cautioning her to stay away. Adamant that she cannot trust the Beauties she’s been abandoned with, Alexis immediately arranges to jump ship.

What follows can only be described as a weird interview montage as each of the three Beauties pitch their services to the Brains, offering to cut their old tribe loose and join forces with the former Luzon. Alexis pitches herself to the Brains over by the well, telling them that Jeremiah played both sides and that Morgan is deceitful and lazy. Morgan hangs with the Brains around the campfire, regaling them with mockery of Alexis whoring herself out to L.J. with her overrated twerking skills, only to have Alexis walk right into camp in the middle of the conversation. Jeremiah gets shirtless in the ocean with Kass and Tasha, apparently hoping to woo the women with his southern charm and the fact he’s a model as he swears to them he has no allegiance to anyone else in the game. The Brains are all more than tickled by the quick structural breakdown of the Beauties–Spencer is turned off by Alexis’ show of desperation and notes that despite being the tribe who’s supposed to excel in the social game, the Beauties are proving themselves to be anything but socially savvy. He compares them to gossipy high schoolers, and Tasha notes that the game has completely turned around and left the Brains sitting on top of the hierarchy in the new tribe–and that they didn’t have to do anything to make it happen. It’s a soaring confessional for Tasha as she talks about the total turnaround and it’s capped off with a shot of her celebrating joyously in the middle of the group. It’s the kind of thing they like to play in the winner’s victory montage at the reunion. I’ve got my eye on you, Tasha Fox.

Who’s looking like a winner?

It’s not just the Beauties of Nu-Aparri who are quick to throw each other under the bus–within moments of getting out of earshot of the Solana Camp, Trish proceeds to air all of her tribe’s dirty laundry to plucky lil’ Jefra, who can do nothing more than hope that this is indicative of a fracture she and L.J. can take advantage of. Trish informs Jefra of her and Lindsey’s mutual hatred of one another and the fact that Lindsey and Cliff have a tight alliance. Jefra says she finds Cliff shady–perhaps because he’s so tall? Yuk yuk yuk. Anyway, Cliff eventually shows up to break up the strategy talk, but it’s pretty clear from this vantage point that Malnutrisha is prepping to make her move.

The new tribes meet for their second showdown, this time with immunity at stake. Jeff discards the smaller immunity idol and reveals his inability to sex the larger idol before explaining the challenge, Gate Crasher, first seen in Survivor: China.

Each tribe must use a battering ram to tear through two barricades before arriving at a puzzle station, where they must slide their log into a brace and navigate a metal peg along the maze of grooves in the log so that they can successfully remove it from the other side. Once through the maze, use the ram to ring a gong, signaling the end of the challenge.

The challenge runs six on six. Malnutrisha wastes no time in volunteering herself to sit out for Solana, while Alexis and Morgan’s school girl rivalry escalates as they bicker over which of the two will sit out. It’s clear that both women know they’re in danger and don’t want to miss an opportunity to prove their worth, so it comes down to Rock, Paper, Scissors, leading Morgan to take the bench.

Solana gets a quick lead, as would be expected of the mostly-Brawn tribe, while Aparri struggles to leverage their battering ram. By the time Aparri figures out that they need to reconfigure who is carrying what part of the log, Solana has already torn down their first barricade. Spencer and Jeremiah step from the back to the front of the log, however, and the extra strength up front allows Aparri to very rapidly scramble back into contention, with both tribes reaching the maze at the same time. In a beautiful show of communication, for once, the three Brains take control, with Tasha calling out directions as they work the log through the maze. It’s a super close challenge, but Aparri manages to sneak ahead and send their battering ram crashing into the gong before they erupt in a jubilant explosion of celebration, having won immunity and their first challenge as a new Tribe. A misty-eyed Tasha takes the idol happily from Jeff, with him noting that victory and a night away from Tribal Council is a welcome change of pace for Tasha, Kass and Spencer.

Solana has the requisite post-loss pity party where everyone reassures each other that everyone did their best before heading off for the pre-vote scramble. Though L.J. begs the Brawns to keep him for his skill in challenges, Woo feels that there’s really nothing L.J. can bring to challenges that Woo can’t do just as well, if not better. Woo, Lindsey and Cliff all agree that L.J. is too threatening of a player for them to let slip by, with Cliff also worried about L.J.’s newfound influence over Trish. Lindsey panics that Trish could flip on them, but she’s reassured by her allies–even if Trish jumps ship, she’s still outnumbered, because Tony is loyal to Brawn. Right? Right? Right?

If Tony is, in fact, sticking with Brawn, Trish didn’t get the memo. The Cougar and her prey rendezvous away from camp where Trish tells L.J. that he’s safe, because she and Tony are aligned and have been looking to get Uncle Cliffy out for ages. This is just the news that Golden Boy was hoping for, as if Trish is telling the truth, he and Jefra are now safe in a new alliance and he can save his idol for a rainy day down the road. The music grows overtly ominous as Trish explains her reasoning, as she launches into a stalkerish monologue about everything she loves about L.J. followed directly by a creepy and borderline racist bash session against Cliff, all capped off with a cackle that really can’t be done justice with written word.

Now if you’ve been watching the show up until this point, none of this news is particularly surprising–Trish has been on the outs of her tribe from day one and Tony has been conspiring against Cliff for weeks now, but the editing is really doing it’s best to push Trish’s thought process as an emotional one, not a game based one… and it’s hard not to see it that way because she’s kind of out of her mind. Trish finds Bad Cop Tony and breaks the news to him that Cliff’s time is up, which Tony is bizarrely baffled by. Despite the fact that he tried to throw a challenge to get Cliff out, he suddenly finds Trish’s plan to be absolutely bonkers and sees no logical reason to get rid of Cliff now when the Brawn Tribe has the numbers. To be as fair as possible to Jersey City, he admits his primary hesitation is that if he turns on Cliff, he’ll have no choice but to put his trust in L.J., who he barely knows. From a distance, like a giraffe at the watering hole, Cliff surveys and plots. The second Trish leaves Tony alone, Cliff swoops in to find out from Tony what Trish is plotting. Tony assures Cliff that he’s trying to keep Trish on board with Brawn, but Cliff is unconcerned. “If Trish wants to make a move, Trish will get voted right out of here,” Cliff says bluntly. He’s confident that Trish is a non-factor–even if she wants to flip on Brawn, she lacks the numbers to make the move successful. Lindsey remains unconvinced, continuing to freak out that Trish is going to somehow screw them over.

As the Solana Tribe heads off to Tribal Council, the stakes are clear and the stage is set–L.J. and Jefra are pinning all their hopes on Tony. L.J. is hoping that when people start talking at Tribal, he’ll get a better sense of if he can trust Tony, and if he should play his idol. If everything goes right for him, he lives another day with his idol intact. Worst case scenario, he walks out the door with it in his pocket.

We get a great face from Lindsey as the former Aparri members light their torches for the first time, and everyone settles in for a Tribal to remember.

L.J. uses the analogy of him and Jefra being like a couple in the process of selling their house. They’re outnumbered in their own home by another group that’s moved in and feel as if all they can do is entertain and be good hosts until their asked to leave. Cliff and Woo both basically say that L.J. is right, and that the best move to make right now for all five of the former Brawn members is to hold their numbers together. Lindsey straight up says that right now, even though it’s five against two, it’s eventually going to be five against the whole other tribe–excluding Jefra and L.J. Trish, on the other hand, is quite blunt in her assessment–number are only useful if the numbers work for you, and if they aren’t in your favor, you should consider making other arrangements. Though Cliff once again warns against making choices with emotion instead of logic, Jefra counters that Survivor is just as much about risk as it is about numbers, and that in a group of five, someone is on the bottom and is going to need help if they want to get out of that position.

Woo kicks off the vote by casting against L.J., following through with the plan, while Jefra does likewise for the opposition, voting against Cliff. We see nothing of the other votes, save for Tony, who is only shown putting his folded ballot into the urn, apologizing to his target–“nothing personal, purely strategical.” Again, this is not the Brain Tribe we’re dealing with.

Jeff collects the votes and invites anyone who’d like to play an idol to do so, but L.J. remains seated. With that, Jeff gets to the votes, and sure enough, it’s a three-three tie, with Trish having jumped ship, putting three votes on L.J., three votes on Cliff, and leaving Tony’s vote to determine the outcome. In a 4-3 decision, Cliff becomes the 5th person voted out of Survivor: Cagayan.

Based on the previous episodes, this should have been a forgone conclusion–L.J. is the main voice of the Beauties and is being built up as a long term character, while Cliff has been Tony’s target from the start and was more of a representational character–an idea of a leader more so than someone who’s perspective into the game we were actually shown. Still, the editors did a great job of creating doubt this week, making you truly worry that L.J. was about to be voted out with an idol in his pants. The tribe swap also really let the editors flesh out the rest of the Beauties, establishing more of Alexis and Morgan’s rivalry and showing more of Jefra’s tomboyish grit that until now has been a mostly informed trait.

Next time on… SURVIVOR! After two weeks of being at each other’s throats, Lindsey vs Malnutrisha reaches it’s climax in the wake of Cliff’s blindside. The preview ends with nightcam footage of Jeff Probst sitting down next to an emotional Lindsey on the beach, asking her what’s up. Is Lindsey going to rage quit? Is she going to be disqualified for assaulting Trish? Funny third thing? All I know is I’m excited to find out, and you should be too.

 

Survivor: Cagayan, Episodes 1-4 Recap

PREVIOUSLY ON… SURVIVOR!

So if I were more organized, I’d have started this blog right as this Survivor: Cagayan premiered. But well… I’m not, and I didn’t, so let’s catch up on the first four episodes I didn’t recap due to this blog not existing.

For its 28th season, Survivor, apparently forever marooned in the Philippines and never planning to base a season on its location again, has instead decided to shake things up with an Interesting Twist ™. Fortunately, it’s actually a good one this time. And all without returning players, too!

And can we talk about that for a moment, please? Part of what makes Reality TV interesting in the first place is that it mirrors society–the people are transient but the structure is constant. Getting returning players used to feel like a “Thank You” card from the network, rewarding us for our devoted fandom. Now returning players feel like a sloppy crutch and a mockery of what this show can be at its best. If I wanted to watch the same bitter people do the same show over and over again I’d watch MTV’s The Challenge.

Anyway, the 18 castaways of Survivor: Cagayan have been split into three tribes of six, based on their possession of one of three primary traits that seem to be an important factor in Survivor success–Brains, Beauty, and Brawn. Each of the three tribes has had a unique journey in the first 11 days, with a common factor being that the label each tribe has been given has most certainly affected how its players think. As well, all three were born from the same nexus at the start of the game.

Each tribe was brought to the Marooning Site via a different form of transportation, indicative of the nature of each tribe. The Brains flew in via the practical helicopter; Brawn was carted in on a truck, ripping through the terrain; and the Beauties raced in on a motorboat, entering the game in style. After being greeted by the one and only Jeff Probst, he dropped the first twist of the game on them. Each tribe was asked to vote, based on nothing but first impressions, for a leader. And once that leader was elected, boom–second twist bomb! They alone, again, based on nothing but first impressions, had to pick someone to kick out of their tribe.

Now if this seems familiar it’s because they’ve done it before, except by tribal vote, not by a leader alone. It was on Survivor: Tocantins, where Sierra and Sandy were chosen “not to partake in this journey” with “this journey” referring to the brutal trek to camp. Instead, they were whisked to camp via helicopter where they were given a choice–improve your standing in the game by getting a head start on the camp, or use this clue to find a hidden immunity idol and save yourself. Lo and behold, the same dilemma befalls our banished players this season, though more straightforwardly–upon arriving at camp, each of them will be forced to choose between a second bag of rice for the tribe or a clue to the location of the Hidden Immunity Idol.

It’s this twist gets the ball rolling for all three of our tribes this season. Let’s take a look at each of them individually.

By far the most tumultuous and prominent journey belongs to the green-clad Brains, the Luzon Tribe.

The Luzon Tribe- (From top left) J’Tia Taylor, 31, Chicago, IL- Nuclear Engineer; David Samson, 45, Plantation, FL- MLB Team President; Kass McQuillen, 40, Tehachapi, CA- Attorney; Tasha Fox, 37, St. Louis, MO- Accountant (from bottom left) Spencer Bledsoe, 21, Chicago IL- Student; Garrett Adelstein, 27, Santa Monica, CA- Professional Poker Player

It’s David, hiding the fact that he is the president of the Miami Marlins, who is elected leader on the first day, due to his professional looking “suit” (which he points out isn’t a suit, it’s a sport jacket, it’s not a suit if you aren’t wearing the whole thing and he’s wearing shorts!), and when tasked by Jeff to kick someone off the tribe, David set the tone for Luzon by starting what would be a chronic case of insane overthinking.  Instead of doing as the other tribes did and eliminating someone who appears to be a weak link in challenges, David kicks out musclebound douchebag stereotype and pro poker player Garrett. (Seriously, check out his official bio. It’s like a scene from a college comedy.)

Unsurprisingly, Garrett does not take this well, and makes the choice to take the clue over the rice. He immediately susses out that the idol is hidden in the Tribe’s waterfall, strips down to his tiny underwear, and finds the idol within minutes. He doesn’t know it now, but he’ll regret not taking the rice.

When the rest of the Brains arrive at camp Luzon, it’s model-turned-nuclear engineer J’Tia who takes center stage. In a shocking twist for Survivor, J’Tia is one of two black women on the Brains Tribe, the other being accountant Tasha. The fact that the casting directors of this show picked two black women to be labelled as “Brains” is, quite frankly, something that I never saw coming, if only because for as much as I love this show, it’s hard to deny that there have been some problematic elements to the casting and/or portrayal of women of color in its past. This is something that could consume a whole entry in and of itself, (and probably will at some point int he future) so we’ll just cut to the chase and reveal that in an un-shocking twist, J’Tia proves herself to be a complete negative stereotype within a matter of minutes. Confident in her abilities as an engineer, she has already worked out  a plan for the shelter in her head, and, in turn, how building the shelter will put her in a good position with her tribe. The problem is twofold–one, J’Tia doesn’t actually know what to do at all. And two, she makes no actual attempts to physically assemble any part of the shelter she’s planning. Which she admits is intentional. All she manages to do is piss everyone off and come across as a bossy bitch. We could stop for a moment to unpack how maybe, if J’Tia were a white male who behaved in the same way, his behavior could potentially have been interpreted differently, perhaps even positively–but we won’t. Like I said, that’s an entry all of its own. Regardless of whatever larger reasons why, J’Tia fails spectacularly with her impression management at the start. So when Luzon loses the first immunity challenge by a giant margin, it seems pretty clear that J’Tia is going to join the ranks of so many black women before her who were the first ones out of their tribes. For both David and Kass, an attorney with a gift for snark, it’s a done deal.

But for Garrett… not so much. He’s still pissed at David for voting him out on the first day, and he wants nothing to do with someone who he knows is targeting him. And yeah, J’Tia screwed up, but being bossy/annoying and openly targeting someone are two different kind of screw ups, and Garrett is having none of it. He’s quick to get University of Chicago student Spencer on board, and then puts down a deal with Tasha and J’Tia, who have started to bond. Not wanting J’Tia to go, Tasha is more than game to join Garrett, and, well, J’Tia can’t vote for herself… so at the first Tribal Council, it’s 4-2 with David becoming the first castaway voted out and Kass being left completely blindsided.

For the remaining Brains, surviving the first vote is nice, but they are still far from out of the woods. Having zero percent body fat means Garrett is starting to starve and it’s giving him a major case of, as Boston Rob would put it, Crybabyitis. Garrett whines a lot about being cold and hungry and wanting to go home and be back at his poker table with a beer and air conditioning or whatever. Despite the fact he claims he’s not having fun, he’s still got his head in the game enough to decide that Tasha and J’Tia won’t turn on each other so he and Spencer have to switch it up and align with Kass instead. Kass, having been left on the outs of the previous vote, is more than willing to jump on board with the guys.

At the second immunity challenge, the Brains actually have a solid lead over the Beauties, and seem poised to ensure that someone else is going to Tribal Council. Of course, when they get to the puzzle portion of the challenge, they make the brilliant decision of putting J’Tia in the designated puzzle-solver role. It is in this moment that J’Tia debuts a new character trait to accompany her raging delusion–a complete ineptitude when it comes to everything challenge related. She’s slow to get started on the puzzle but more than quick to get flustered and start freaking out as the Beauty Tribe gains on her. Sure enough, Beauty wins out, and poor Luzon has nothing to look forward to but Tribal Council and a dramatic shot of J’Tia sobbing in the rain.

When the tribe gets back to Camp Luzon, Garrett, further infected by his crybabyitis, makes the brilliant (read: moronic) decision to have an “open forum” because he doesn’t feel like scrambling. Garrett’s definition of “open forum” turns out to be that everyone sits around the fire and explains, right then and there, to her face, why they’re voting J’Tia out. Spencer is mortified by his ally, fully aware Garrett is making a horrible error, and Tasha is outraged, furious that Garrett is essentially trying to forbid strategizing amongst the tribe, as if it’s his place to decide. Taking matters into her own hands, she invites Kass down to the beach to “wash their feet.”

In the water, Tasha implores Kass to spare J’Tia, as Tasha knows that if J’Tia goes now, she’s next on the chopping block. Before Kass even has a chance to truly consider her options, Garrett flies down in a flurry of paranoia with Spencer in tow, leaving J’Tia stewing alone at camp. And no sooner can Kass say “Do you think it’s a good idea for her to be alone?” than do we cut to J’Tia, who casually grabs the bag of rice and empties it right into the roaring fire. I can only assume that in her outrage, she decided that if she was going to get voted out, she was going to make the tribe suffer for it. I told Garrett he’d want that rice. Anyway, when the rest of the tribe returns, J’Tia plays innocent, blaming the Rice Fairy, and any plans to turn the vote otherwise have completely melted away. J’Tia has set her fate in stone. At tribal council, Spencer casts his vote for her, saying that “The fact that you’re a nuclear engineer is genuinely, genuinely scary.” In a unanimous vote, J’Tia is sent home.

Or at least that’s what would have happened on a normal tribe. But Luzon is far from normal, and, as I said earlier, prone to overthinking, which Garrett proves he has an aptitude for as he overthinks aloud to the entire tribe. He sloppily manages Jeff’s questions and can’t help but slip up every time he tries to correct himself. He digs a deeper and deeper hole for himself as it becomes apparent he and Spencer have made conflicting promises to each of the women. Tasha and Kass both realize that neither of them are content to try their fate at Garrett’s hands, hoping that they’re the lucky one to whom he was being honest with. So in a 3-2 decision, Garrett is the second person voted out, and an astonished Spencer is left at the bottom.

Let’s just let that sink in: Garrett was literally so bad at Survivor that he got himself voted out over someone who tossed 98% of the tribe’s food into the fire. (Statistic is courtesy of Garrett.)

Fortunately for our Brains, they get a reprieve in Episode 3, where they manage to come in second on the only challenge they ever win.

But come Episode 4 and we’re back on track. Luzon has a lead over the Brawn Tribe in the first reward challenge, a Survivor classic in which a caller has to navigate their blindfolded tribemates across an obstacle riddled game field in search of various items. Unfortunately for Luzon’s lead, J’Tia happens, and her inability to put a flag on a lift allows Brawn to catch up and surpass them. In the immunity challenge, J’Tia happens again, as she, along with the other two women, are unable to release any buoys from an underwater anchor. This forces Spencer, a pasty white kid who you know has never before been relied on for his athletic ability, to do all of the legwork. After collecting all the buoys and bringing them back to their starting platform, they then must toss them across the water into a basket, a task which again falls to Spencer, who does his best. Shockingly enough, it’s (who else) J’Tia who can’t manage to get the buoys back to Spencer in a timely fashion whenever he misses a shot. And just like that, it’s time for a third Brain to bounce.

Tasha, who has clawed her way into the top spot of the tribe, is the one who holds most of the power going into the next vote. Kass knows she is beholden to do whatever Tasha decides on, as someone has to go, and it’s not going to be either of them. At camp, Spencer pleads with the two of them to abandon their alliance with J’Tia and keep him around so they can have something resembling a fighting shot in the challenges. Tasha and Kass know he has a solid argument, but Tasha is indecisive about what to do, and goes back and forth between deciding to keep Spencer or J’Tia. At Tribal Council, it appears that she’s finally made up her mind–and all signs point to the women rewarding loyalty, but an impassioned plea from Spencer gets Tasha and Kass to whispering, and sure enough, they change directions, and J’Tia, the cat with nine lives, fails to hang on and is ousted in a unanimous vote. Spencer is elated to have been spared and tells Tasha that she won’t regret keeping him. They show us this with subtitles, so you know they want us to remember it.

And believe it or not, with all of the drama and madness happening with the Brains, there’s still enough airtime to show us what’s happening to the two other tribes trying to survive in the Philippines. In purple, we have the Beauties of the Solana Tribe.

The Solana Tribe- (From top left) Brice Johnston, 27, Philadelphia, PA- Social Worker; Jefra Bland, 22, Campbellsville, KY- Former Miss Teen Kentucky; Morgan McLeod, 21, San Jose, CA- Former NFL Cheerleader (From bottom left) Alexis Maxwell, 21, Addison, IL- Student; Jeremiah Wood, 34, Dobson, NC- Model; L.J. McKanas, 34, Boston, MA- Horse Trainer

Shaking what your mother gave you is a time honored strategy on Survivor, even if it is a rarely successful and oft misused one. Many a Survivor hottie have come and gone, attempting to flirt their way into an alliance and use their sex appeal to manipulate any ally who is short-sighted enough to fall for it. But in a larger sense, the concept of “Beauty” as a Survivor asset is kind of nebulous and not fully encapsulated by a single word. It’s about more than just good looks–it’s the way in which good looks often influence the way people carry themselves. It’s about charm, charisma, and confidence. The Beauty Tribe, in theory, are the masters of the social game. This, of course, in practice, proves to not really be the case.

On Day One, Solana, much like Luzon, is tasked to elect a leader, and the role falls to horse trainer L.J., an L.L. Bean Boyfriend who sprung to life to be this season’s iteration of the Standardized Leader Who’s Good At Everything ™. For his first boot, he kicks out buxom ex-Cheerleader Morgan, citing her as seeming the least equipped to hack it. He also suspects that she’s a conniving bitch, and surprising exactly nobody, he’s absolutely correct. I’ve talked with people before about the nuance of good-looking people–the fact that there are differences between pretty, cute, beautiful, sexy, hot, etc. Morgan is the quintessential Hot Chick–mean spirited, conniving, petty, and used to getting her way. Much like Garrett, she does not take being booted by her tribe’s leader well, and also like Garrett, she opts for the clue to the idol instead of the extra rice. As Morgan wastes no time stripping to her bikini to search the rocky coastline for the idol, the rest of Solana arrives at camp, catching Morgan in the act. She’s able to brush it off with a lie, claiming that she not only didn’t take the clue to the idol, but that all the standard starting supplies, such as the pot, machete, and rice, were procured by her as a result of not picking the clue. Fortunately for Morgan, everyone buys it, save for L.J., who doesn’t believe Morgan for a second and is wary of her, pegging her as the type to carry a grudge. He’s not wrong. With that, the tribe sets about building their camp–and building their alliances.

There aren’t a lot of surprises as people start cliquing up. L.J. is quick to buddy with Southern fried model and obvious Jeff Probst wank casting choice, Jeremiah. Plucky farm girl and former teen beauty queen Jefra buddies up with ditzy psychology student Alexis. And as every Queen Bitch is wont to have, so does Morgan find her mate in social worker Brice, Survivor’s first black, gay contestant. Though effeminate, Brice is not shallow, and has his eyes on the game. He’s observant and sharp, and is quick to notice that Jeremiah is into Morgan. So like any good GBF, he sets Morgan up man-fishing and plays wingman, and Jeremiah agrees to stick with Morgan and Brice.

Led by self proclaimed “puzzle freak” and ambiguous homosexual L.J., the Beauties breeze through the challenges, loftily floating in Beautyland while the Brain Tribe suffers Tribal Council. Or, at least that’s how it goes the first few times. In episode three, the Brains miraculously manage to get it together for half a second and it’s Solana who takes the fall in their stead, drawing the lines as Beautyland becomes Battleland.

Standardized Leader L.J. has secured his numbers, rallying Jeremiah, Jefra, and Alexis for a majority of four. Hesitant about a possible idol, Alexis suggests that the foursome split their votes–two on Morgan, two on Brice. What Alexis doesn’t know is that neither Morgan or Brice could have the idol, because who else but L.J. has already snagged it. L.J. doesn’t particularly want this information out in the open, so he keeps up the pretense and agrees to split votes. And as we’ve learned from seasons past, split votes always leave room for a lot to go wrong.

For Morgan and Brice, the vote split is a perfect opportunity–they no longer need to attempt to court a 4th vote. With Jeremiah’s vote, three will be enough to send someone else home–and the target is Alexis, L.J.’s favorite pet. While L.J. is an acknowledged threat, Brice and Morgan are both aware that they need him for challenges going forward, and hope to cripple him by removing one of his weaker allies.

There is a problem with the plan, however–and that problem is that Jeremiah has lied to Morgan and Brice. At Tribal Council, we learn the Talk of the Town ™ and the talk of the town is that Jeremiah is playing both sides and is going to have to commit to one, and he’s committing to the more boring alliance. He helps L.J., Jefra and Alexis in setting up a tie vote between Brice and Morgan, and then votes out beloved Brice in the revote.

This leaves Morgan alone and on the bottom, but no Hot Girl with a Grudge is worth her salt if she sits back and takes that. The second Jeremiah is out of earshot, Morgan throws him under the bus, revealing his double dealings to the entire tribe, including the fact that he had promised to eventually help Morgan and Brice take out his buddy L.J. Whether or not she succeed in turning the tide, however, is a moot point–sure enough, the Brains resume their spectacular string of losses right on schedule, and peace is restored to Beautyland. Not even L.J. walking crotch-first into obstacle after obstacle while blindfolded can keep them from winning a reward of four chickens–three hens and a rooster. And we, the audience, also win a reward, as the Beauty Tribe falls to the stereotype of being brainless beauties as they attempt to solve the mystery of how chickens lay eggs. Somehow, even farm-reared tomboy Jefra has no idea. The only person who gets it is (you guessed it) L.J., who delicately explains to Alexis how much like she produces eggs that might not be fertilized regardless of if she has been penetrated by a male, so does the female of literally every other animal species. L.J. having to explain 8th grade biology is deliciously awkward, especially given the fact that you can tell he’s kind of into Alexis even though she’s maybe 13 years younger than him. And with an immunity win at the next challenge, the Beauties of Solana ensure that, for now, the chicken-egg dilemma is the biggest issue they have to face.

But while the Beauties have been doing well in the challenges, they don’t compare to the orange-clad Brawn Tribe, Aparri.

The Aparri Tribe- (From top left) Sarah Lacina, 29, Cedar Rapids, IA- Police Officer; Woo Hwang, 29, Newport Beach, CA- Martial Arts Instructor; Tony Vlachos, 39, Jersey City, NJ- Police Officer; Lindsey Ogle, 29, Kokomo, IN- Hairstylist; (Bottom, from left) Cliff Robinson, 46, Newark, NJ- Former NBA All-Star; Trish Hegarty, 48, Boston, MA- Pilates Trainer

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tribe that was assembled based on their athleticism is the only tribe that has yet to lose a single challenge. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us, the viewers), this means that they’ve had plenty of time to get on each others nerves and no way to relieve the steadily building tension, almost ensuring that the tribe will rip itself to shreds at the first opportunity. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For Aparri, it’s Sarah, a police officer, who is voted the leader on the first day. Sharp and perceptive, her choice is the one least likely to ruffle any feathers, and she chooses to eliminate pilates trainer and single mother, Trish, by virtue of her being the oldest.

Unlike Morgan and Garrett, Trish, a theoretically positive person who believes Helen Keller is an “Earth Angel”, and she decides to do the right thing by picking the rice instead of the clue to the idol. Sidenote–it’s also quite possible that this is another big reason Aparri never loses a challenge. Trish greets her tribe with a great big ball of understanding, ready to bounce back from first impressions by supporting her team.

Alas, it doesn’t really seem to work for poor Trish. Instead, the majority of the tribe unites around Former NBA All-Star Cliff aka Uncle Cliffy, who dazzles with a combination of generic leader-ness and magic celebrity mind melting dust. In particular, Cliff earns the trust of laid back surfie and (and total hottie) Woo, as well as that of Lindsey, a tattooed, dreadlocked hairdresser who claims in preshow interviews that she is a “slave to [her] emotions,” which is exactly the type of person that production wants on the show but you never would want to play with yourself. With Sarah on board, a majority of four is born, leaving Trish on the outs along with astonishing Jersey meat head cliche Tony, who, like Sarah, is also a cop, but unlike Sarah, is lying and claiming otherwise. Sarah immediately picks up on the fact that Tony’s a cop based on his mannerisms, but he continues to deny it. Instead, Tony attempts to scheme himself into power by building a “#SpyShack” and finding the idol that Trish never searched for.

Rather than an idol, all Trish gets is into fights with Lindsey. Trish finds Lindsey to be lazy and obnoxious and isn’t afraid to call her on it, and Lindsey isn’t afraid to get defensive and abrasive in response. Having little to contribute in terms of having anything useful to say, Lindsey is relegated to being a ridiculous background character who is always armed with eye rolls, barred teeth, and a gripe with someone or something. In a single character defining moment, Lindsey rants to no one in particular about her hated rival, “Malnu-Trisha.” Meanwhile, Woo and Cliff flip over in the boat and everyone laughs.

Together on the outs, Tony and Trish unite, and Tony seeks to secure numbers by coming clean to Sarah and sharing his not-so-secret secret–yes, he is, in fact a cop. After swearing on his badge with every intention to lie through his teeth, Tony pulls the wool over Sarah’s eyes and ropes her into an alliance by telling her that Cliff and Lindsey have been conspiring against her. Tony crosses into total villain caricature territory and Sarah follows along, all but inevitably poised to eventually realize that something is amiss.

Of course, if and when Sarah realizes that Tony has lied, it won’t be for a while. Now mistrustful of Cliff, Sarah becomes hellbent on getting him out–but the curse of being the Brawn Tribe is that you’re always winning challenges. You know, like how the curse for the Beauty Tribe is the pressure of just always having to look pretty and how the curse of the Brain Tribe was always being told “you’re so smart” as a kid and never learning how to fail or whatever. So come episode four, Sarah decides that it’s time for Aparri to visit Jeff at Tribal Council, and hatches a plan with Tony and Trish to throw the challenge. Of course, going to tribal means nothing without numbers, and Sarah has no choice but to try and rope in Woo. In an unexpected scene of strategic competence, Woo is forced to weigh his options, and eventually convinces Sarah that he’ll follow her lead. Come challenge time, however, Woo gives it his all, unwilling to throw the match.

Even though Brawn is ready to lose a challenge, it just doesn’t end up working out for them. You see, over on Luzon, J’Tia happened, and despite the best attempts of Sarah and Trish to throw the challenge, they eventually reach a point where there is little else they can do when Luzon proves just how bad they are at challenges. At the last stage of the challenge, the glorified free-throw contest, it comes down to pasty white boy Spencer vs 6’20” former professional basketball player Cliff. Aparri wins immunity and makes it past episode four as the only tribe to yet have attended Tribal Council, standing intact with all six of their weird, wacky members.

So that’s it–the first four episodes–but there are still 14 castaways remaining and a lot of game left to be played before we reach the final three and learn ONCE and FOR ALL what you really need to win Survivor– Brains, Beauty, or Brawn? (results are likely to be inconclusive.) Also, episode five is a tribe swap, soooo…..  yeah.

Welcome!

Sooooo after a lot of hemming and hawing I’ve finally decided to start a blog. And who am I, you ask?

Well, that answer depends on who you ask. But the short version is I’m just some guy who is absolutely obsessed with Reality TV. And I’m talking the real stuff, the good stuff–no Kardashians or their docu-soap ilk here. I’ve always been a people-watcher and passionate observer of social norms and customs with a gift for being able to express my thoughts with my words. So in Undergrad, when I found out there was an entire branch of Social Science–Sociology–that is completely devoted to people watching and analyzing, I was elated to say the least. And the more I studied sociology, the more I fell in love with Reality TV, being given a progressively growing tool set with which to pick it apart.

My interest in Reality TV is twofold. I love it as a storytelling medium because I am fascinated by the way that the editors have to condense the experiences of a cast in the midst of what is, in some essence, an accidental social experiment, and turn it into a story with characters that can engage viewers and leave them feeling satisfied. And I love it as a reflection of society, using the actions and behaviors of real people in contrived situations to reflect the attitudes of our society, for better or worse.

For the most part, this blog will focus on recaps of currently airing shows that I’m following and enjoying, as well as Retro-caps of previous seasons of shows that I love, re-opening them for further analysis. For the most part, I’ll be focusing on my favorite show–Survivor, including recaps of the current season, Survivor: Cagayan–but I’ll also dip into other shows, such as America’s Next Top Model, The Amazing Race, and many of the classic VH1 Dating Shows and their many, many spin offs. For the near future, however, you can look forward to two things. One, as previously mentioned, are weekly recaps of the current Survivor Season. Within this week, I also plan to begin the first in a series of Survivor Retrocaps of the three Survivor seasons thusfar to feature a Battle of the Sexes format–Amazon, Vanuatu, and One World–followed by a comparative analysis of these three seasons and the way that splitting the Tribes by sex influences the game of Survivor.

So yeah, that’s the basic idea… let’s talk Reality TV.